At the top of a Viñamarino hill stands Olivar Alto: a working class whose memories had to disappear completely in the flames. In one of the areas hardest hit by the fires in south-central Chile, all that remains are the skeletons of semi-detached houses, a pile of rubble and people's desperation. Especially the one on Chumisa Street. They lost at least six neighbors – of the 123 who died – and most of their pets, and, according to people interviewed for this report, no agency has come forward to offer assistance four days after the tragedy. Fear grows at night because of the risk of new deliberate fires or looting. “They want to steal our ashes,” complains 19-year-old Josefa Cornejo, whose face and body are covered in soot.
The population of El Olivar after the fire. Cristóbal Venegas
On the final evening, they organized to take surveillance shifts. Vast quantities of gas and copper cables had been stolen from some, and there was already news of people setting fires in the area, although no arrests were made. Nicole Martínez, 30 years old and mother of two, was one of four volunteers keeping watch. They reportedly saw an intruder trying to light the flames in one of the few trees still standing on a visibly destroyed hill. There are many theories about who he was. The more desperate the neighbor is, the more serious the accusation. The only consensus among Olivar Alto residents is that they want the police and military to come at night to protect them. That they already have enough. That they need her. As for material aid, they claim that it only reaches the lower part of the hill.
“Neighbor, should I paint your house number?” asks a young woman with a colored glass. “So that when the cadastre is drawn up they know who owns the house.” They are waiting for you.
Neighbors of El Olivar are looking for a suspected arsonist who tried to start a new fire on the night of February 5: Cristobal Venegas
Lucy Castañeda, a 61-year-old widow, uses a shovel to clear debris from the house where she has lived for the past 33 years. The place where her son was born, where she lost her husband and where she fulfilled her dream of owning her own home. Family and neighbors support her in this difficult task. Everyone knows everyone. Castañeda is responsible for an 80-year-old aunt who forces her to repeatedly travel to the disaster area. He describes his family as having managed to get out with the fire on their backs and burning ash falling from the sky. She took her granddaughter and her son, her aunt, with her. “It's as if an atomic bomb had fallen and destroyed us all. So many neighbors have died… we're alive, but we have nothing. Nothing. Not even my documents,” says Castañeda from the former terrace of his house, which is now a concrete cube.
The majority of respondents moved into a family member's home after the emergency. There are others who sleep as best they can to take care of the only thing they have. “My son comes to keep watch because this becomes a no man’s land at night. Last night they came again to set fires and suddenly they started shooting,” he laments. The only thing that is urgent is that the authorities come and clear away the rubble that is accumulating in front of the charred houses in the middle of the street, giving off a smell of decay that gives the impression of a war zone.
A Marine Corps agent stationed in Pompeya Sur, Quilpué municipality, after curfew. Cristobal Venegas
Elizabeth Cabezas, a 47-year-old secretary, also hopes that specialists will be sent to check whether the remains of her house can be rebuilt or whether it will have to be completely demolished. He had lived there since 1988, when the first properties of the government project of the Chilean Housing and Urban Planning Service were handed over. The fire caught her on vacation and a friend warned her: “Your house is not gone, your street is gone,” she told her. He lists all the neighbors he has lost, most of them elderly people who were left behind along the way during the evacuation. Several managed to get into their cars to escape, but a bottleneck was created in an area with narrow streets from which not everyone could get out.
Carla Victoriano, 41, a customs worker, lets her one-and-a-half-year-old little boy sleep in what little remains of her home. There is nowhere to put it while cleaning your property. The main help came from members of the Santiago Wanderers soccer team who came to the area as volunteers. The image of young people with shovels, rakes and sacks running from the street to the top of the hills is a recurring image in Viña del Mar these days. Neighbors insist that it was they, not the authorities, who helped them the most. But when night comes, they leave. And those affected, they claim, are left alone.
Young people work with shovels to remove debris from a house.Cristóbal Venegas
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