Latin America & Caribbean

Chileans survey Valparaiso fire damage

A resident walks past cars destroyed by a major fire in Valparaiso (13 April 2014) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption 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.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The fire moved quickly through the hillsides surrounding the historic port of Valparaiso
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Residents scribbled street names on walls in neighbourhoods left unrecognisable after the blaze
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption 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.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Some residents refused to leave their homes for fear there would be looting
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption 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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