Latin America & Caribbean

Chileans survey Valparaiso fire damage

A resident walks past cars destroyed by a major fire in Valparaiso (13 April 2014)
Whole neighbourhoods were destroyed by the biggest fire ever to hit Valparaiso

Thousands of Chileans who had to flee their homes in Valparaiso as a forest fire razed parts of the port city, have been returning to survey the damage.

Officials said about 2,500 homes had been destroyed, leaving 11,000 people homeless.

The fire, the worst ever to hit the city of Valparaiso, broke out on Saturday and quickly spread fanned by strong winds from the hills.

Fifteen people died in the blaze; many of them had refused to be evacuated.

Determined to rebuild

Firefighters continued to try and extinguish pockets of the blaze which still remained active on Monday night.

A resident whose home was destroyed by a major fire sits amid the destruction in Valparaiso on 13 April 2014
The fire moved quickly through the hillsides surrounding the historic port of Valparaiso
A girl stands in front of a wall of a burned house during the fire that affected several neighbourhoods on the hills in Valparaiso on 14 April 2014
Residents scribbled street names on walls in neighbourhoods left unrecognisable after the blaze
Residents remove debris from their burned house after a fire burned several neighbourhoods in the hills in Valparaiso, on 14 April 2014
Smoke and dust were heavy in the air even where the flames had been extinguished

But with forecasters predicting a cooler and less windy day for Tuesday, some residents were allowed to return to areas where the fire had been extinguished.

Many found that their entire neighbourhood had been razed to the ground by the blaze which quickly spread from the wooded hills surrounding the city of 250,000 inhabitants.

Valparaiso's poorest neighbourhoods, often made up of little more than wooden huts. were worst affected.

Carolina Ovando, 22, said she would "rebuild right here".

"Where else would I go?", the mother of three asked.

Volunteers accompanied some of the residents, helping to remove debris and handing out water bottles.

Fear of looting

Some people had refused to leave altogether, fearing that looters would steal their possessions.

Residents sit with belongings in front of remains of houses after a fire burned several neighbourhoods in the hills in Valparaiso on 14 April 2014
Some residents refused to leave their homes for fear there would be looting
Soldiers deliver food supplies to affected residents after a fire burned several neighbourhoods on the hills in Valparaiso on 14 April 2014
Soldiers and volunteers have been delivering supplies to those worst affected

"I will not let go of what little I have," Arturo Gomez told the AFP news agency.

"This represents 15 years of effort. My wife and my four children are in a shelter."

Fifteen people are confirmed to have been killed in the fire. Many of them were found in the burned-down homes they had refused to leave.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said the fire had grown to "dimensions never seen before".

She said the state would make "available all possible resources to confront this tragedy, first, with the relocation and support for families affected and as a second phase, reconstruction".

On Sunday, the president declared the area destroyed by the fire a disaster zone. The government said it would send 500 million Chilean pesos ($0.9m, £0.5m) to help the clean-up effort in Valparaiso, and promised more help would be given.

This is the second emergency that President Bachelet has had to face in the first month of her second term in office, after an 8.2 magnitude earthquake hit the north of the country on 1 April.

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