WORLD

Hundreds of people are missing as the death toll from Chile’s wildfires reaches 122

Feb 5, 2024, 9:29 AM

Aminta Guerra stands inside what is left of her charred home after a deadly forest fire affected th...

Aminta Guerra stands inside what is left of her charred home after a deadly forest fire affected the El Olivar neighborhood of Vina del Mar, Chile, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Volunteers in central Chile tried to remove charred metal, broken glass and other debris Monday from neighborhoods devastated by wildfires over the past several days, as officials raised the death toll to 122. Hundreds of people remain missing.

The fires appeared to have diminished by Monday morning after burning intensely since Friday on the eastern edge of the city of Viña del Mar. Two other towns in the Valparaíso region, Quilpé and Villa Alemana, also have been hit hard, and President Gabriel Boric said Sunday that at least 3,000 homes had been burnt down in the area.

An additional 10 victims were added to the death toll on Monday afternoon, bringing it to 122, said Marisol Prado, the director of Chile’s Forensic Medical Service.

Prado said that many bodies were in bad condition and difficult to identify, but added that forensic workers would be taking samples of genetic material from people who have reported missing relatives.

Viña del Mar’s Mayor Macarena Ripamonti said that at least 370 people have been reported missing in the city of about 300,000 residents.

The fires ravaged several neighborhoods that had been precariously built on the mountains that loom to the east of Viña del Mar, which is also a popular beach resort.

Pricila Rivero, a chef from the neighborhood of Alto Miraflores, said that it took about 15 minutes for the flames to travel from a neighboring hill to her home.

She said she rushed her children to safety when she saw the fire approaching, but by the time she returned to salvage some of her posessions her house was burning, with licks of flame emerging from the windows.

“It’s the place where we have lived all our lives” Rivero said. “It’s so sad to see it destroyed, and to lose our memories, our photos, the pictures from my parents’ wedding, but some of that will remain in our hearts.”

Schools and other public buildings in Viña del Mar and in the capital city of Santiago are currently serving as depots, where people are taking donations of water, food, candles and shovels for the victims of the fires.

In Viña del Mar and the nearby towns of Villa Alemana and Quilpé, police have asked people who have not been affected by the fires to stay at home so that rescue crews can move around with more ease.

Hundreds of people affected by the fires returned to their homes on Monday to search through the debris. Many have said they prefer to sleep near their homes in order to prevent looters from taking what is left of their possessions, or from claiming the land their homes were built on.

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Rueda reported from Bogota, Colombia

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Follow AP’s coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean at https://apnews.com/hub/latin-america

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Hundreds of people are missing as the death toll from Chile’s wildfires reaches 122