Death toll from Chile forest fire rises to 16
Updated: 2014-04-14 07:11
SANTIAGO - The death toll from the massive forest fire in Chile's port city of Valparaiso has risen to 16, while more than 500 houses destroyed and 10,000 people evacuated since the fire broke out Saturday in the hills surrounding Valparaiso, authorities said Sunday.
Valparaiso's Emergency Committee said the death toll had risen from 11 to 16, adding that the fire has destroyed some 756 hectares including forest and high parts of the urban sector of Valparaiso, some 110 km west of Santiago.
Earlier on Sunday, police officer Colonel Fernando Bywaters told Radio Cooperativa that "so far, there are at least 11 fatalities from the fire."
Driven by strong Pacific coast winds, the fire has gutted more than 300 hectares of hilly residential neighborhoods, local authorities said.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet arrived in Valparaiso Sunday morning after declaring a state of emergency in the city, which is famous for its UNESCO-listed historic center.
Bachelet came to the city to survey the damages of the huge fire. In a message sent from the seat of Valparaiso's regional government, she informed about the situation and presented a humanitarian action plan to help those affected.
According to Bachelet, 10,000 people were evacuated on Saturday night when the fire spread throughout the hills surrounding Valparaiso, where poor people live. She also said some 500 houses were destroyed.
"I want to begin sending a message of support and solidarity for the hundreds of families that have lost their homes, belongings and loved ones. The images are stunning," she said.
She said that at the moment, the priorities are to control the fire, to protect the people and to assure internal order to support the affected people.
"We are working to avoid looting and to have enough people to support fire extinction and to support the people," said Bachelet, adding that some 1,200 firefighters are currently working in Valparaiso, while 2,000 police officers and members of the Army were patrolling the affected zones to protect the empty houses.
Although the fire is partially under control, it is feared that the seats of the fire that have not been extinguished might spread if the wind becomes stronger.
"We have perfectly identified the places that should be evacuated," Bachelet said, referring to the sites of the fire that might spread.