Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Blaze brings destruction to seaside city in Chile

Officials say at least 11 killed, 10,000 evacuated


A man cries next to the remains of his house after a fire destroyed it in Valparaiso, Chile. Officials said the blaze had destroyed at least 1,000 homes by Sunday.


VALPARAISO, Chile — A raging fire leaped from hilltop to hilltop in this colorful port city throughout the night and day on Sunday, killing at least 11 people and destroying at least 1,000 homes.

More than 10,000 people were evacuated, including more than 200 female inmates at a prison.

With hot dry winds stoking the embers, the fires were still burning out of control as a second night approached.

The blaze began Saturday afternoon in a forested area above ramshackle housing on one of the city’s 42 hilltops, and spread quickly as hot ash rained down over wooden houses and narrow streets.

Electricity failed as the fire grew, with towering flames turning the night sky orange over a darkening, destroyed horizon.

Neighborhoods on six hilltops eventually were reduced to ashes, including one hill just several blocks from Chile’s parliament building. Flames broke out again on at least two of those hills, burning out of control and threatening to consume other neighborhoods.

“It’s a tremendous tragedy. This could be the worst fire in the city’s history,” President Michelle Bachelet said as firefighters contained most of the blazes, mobilizing 20 helicopters and planes to drop water on hot spots Sunday.

Authorities warned that the death toll and damage could rise once authorities can enter the smoldering remains.

Military Police Gen. Julio Pineda said 11 people were killed. Earlier Sunday, he said 16 died, but it turned out one family had been counted twice. More than 500 people were treated at hospitals, mostly for smoke inhalation.

It was the worst fire to hit the seaside city of 250,000 people since 1953, when 50 people were killed.

While the fires were contained to the hills, Ms. Bachelet declared the entire city a catastrophe zone, putting Chile’s military in charge of maintaining order.

Valparaiso is known for colorful neighborhoods hugging hills so steep that people have to use staircases rather than streets.

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