SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Volunteers in central Chile tried to clear burned metal, broken glass and other debris from neighborhoods Monday. Destroyed by wildfires Over the past several days, officials have raised the death toll to 123. Hundreds of people are missing.
After burning intensely since Friday on the eastern edge of the city of Viña del Mar, the fire appeared to have subsided by Monday morning. Two towns in the Valparaiso region, Quilpe and Villa Alemana, were hit hard. President Gabriel Boric At least 3,000 houses were burnt in the area, he said on Sunday.
Another 10 people were added to the death toll Monday afternoon, said Marisol Prado, director of Chile's forensic medical service.
Prado said many of the bodies were in poor condition and difficult to identify, but said forensics staff would take samples of genetic material from people who reported missing relatives.
Macarena Ripamonti, the mayor of Viña del Mar, said at least 370 people were missing in the city of about 300,000 people.
The fire destroyed several precariously constructed neighborhoods in the looming hills east of Viña del Mar, also a popular beach resort.
Officials have suggested that some of the forest fires around the city may have been started deliberately. Dry weather, strong winds and low humidity helped the fire spread quickly, Poric said.
Priscilla Rivero, a cook from the neighborhood of Alto Miraflores, said it took about 15 minutes for the flames to travel from a neighboring hill to her home.
She said she took her children to safety when she saw the fire approaching, but by the time she returned to save some of her belongings, her house was on fire, with flames pouring out of the windows.
“This is where we've lived our whole lives,” Rivero said. “It's so sad to see it destroyed, our memories, our photos, pictures of my parents' wedding, but some of them will be in our hearts.”
“Jill and I are deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation caused by the ongoing wildfires in Chile,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement late Monday.
“My administration remains in touch with our Chilean partners, and the United States stands ready to provide the assistance the Chilean people need,” he said.
Schools and other public buildings in Viña del Mar and the capital, Santiago, are now acting as depots, where people are taking donations of water, food, candles and shovels to fire victims.
In Viña del Mar and the nearby towns of Villa Alemana and Quilpé, police are asking people not affected by the fire to stay at home so rescue teams can get in more easily.
Hundreds of people affected by the fire returned to their homes on Monday to search for debris. Many have said they prefer to sleep near their homes to prevent looters from taking what's left of their possessions or claiming the land on which their homes are built.
In the neighborhood of Villa Independencia in the eastern part of Viña del Mar, Marco Delcadillo tries to clear the rubble from his house, which he built 25 years ago.
The furniture in Delcadillo's house was engulfed in flames and the walls charred with smoke, but they still stood.
The construction worker said he would rebuild and urged the municipal government to help him repair the collapsed roof of his house before winter sets in in the southern hemisphere.
“We had no choice,” Delcadillo said. “Buying new land is now unaffordable.”
Ruda reported from Bogotá, Colombia
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