Coastal region of Valparaiso witnessed scorching temperatures as high as 40 degrees Celsius during weekend
Authorities said Sunday that the wildfires in Chile have so far killed at least 99 people, with officials calling it one of the deadliest in the country’s history.
The national disaster service SENAPRED chief Alvaro Hormazabal said firefighters were battling 34 blazes as of Sunday morning, with 43 others under control.
Earlier, President Gabriel Boric while visiting the Quilpue area — affected by wildfires — noted that the death toll was expected to rise, as he also termed the inferno catastrophic since the 2010 earthquake and tsunami.
The coastal region of Valparaiso witnessed scorching temperatures as high as 40 degrees Celsius during the weekend, complicating the current rescue operations.
“Weather conditions are going to continue to be complicated,” Hormazabal said.
Officials overseeing the victims’ bodies noted Sunday that they had taken in 99 people, 32 of them identified.
President while speaking earlier in Quilpue had said that 64 people were dead.
“We know it is going to increase significantly,” he added, saying it was the country’s deadliest disaster since a 2010 earthquake and tsunami that killed 500 people.
A state of emergency was also declared by the President, pledging government support to help people get back on their feet during his visit to the areas affected by the wildfires.
According to SENAPRED, nearly 26,000 hectares (64,000 acres) had been burned across the central and southern regions by Sunday.
Supported by 31 firefighting helicopters and airplanes, some 1,400 firefighters, 1,300 military personnel and volunteers are combating the flames.
Authorities imposed a curfew beginning at 9:00pm Saturday, while thousands in the affected areas were ordered to evacuate their homes.
Deadliest in Chile’s history
The fires, raging for days, forced authorities Friday to close the road linking the Valparaiso region to the capital Santiago, about 1.5 hours away, as a huge mushroom cloud of smoke impaired visibility.
According to Interior Minister Carolina Toha, the weekend blazes have been “without a doubt” the deadliest fire event in Chile’s history.
Pope Francis in his Sunday’s address called for prayers for the “dead and wounded in the devastating fires in Chile.”
The fires are being driven by a summer heatwave and drought affecting the southern part of South America caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, as scientists warn that a warming planet has increased the risk of natural disasters such as intense heat and fires.
The rising temperatures threaten to engulf more of the continent, as brigades in Argentina have been fighting a fire that has consumed more than 3,000 hectares in Los Alerces National Park, famed for its beauty and biodiversity, since January 25.