1707151379 The tragedy of Vina del Mar The garden city smells

The tragedy of Viña del Mar: The “garden city” smells of smoke, ash and fear

The center of Viña del Mar, a tourist destination par excellence in Chile, looks like a deserted town at six in the afternoon on a summer day. The curfew imposed by Gabriel Boric's government in one of the areas hardest hit by the deadliest fires of the last decade – the latest report says 122 people have died – kept visitors and tenants in their homes. At night, few homeless people can be seen, but above all police vehicles ensure that the restriction of movement is observed in order to facilitate assistance and prevent new outbreaks of fire.

The tragedy of Vina del Mar The garden city smells

In the hills of the so-called garden city the situation is different. Neighbors from Villa Rukan, Villa Dulce or Palto Miraflores are organizing on the streets to prevent looting or the takeover of their lands, and fears of new fire outbreaks remain as there are suspicions that the forest fires were deliberate, as the authorities point out have pointed out, it hasn't resolved. The tragedy, Boric said, was the largest that Chile had experienced since the great earthquake of February 27, 2010, which claimed hundreds of victims from the earthquake and a tsunami. “I say this so we can appreciate the pain and the magnitude of what we are experiencing,” he said. For this reason, two days of national mourning have been declared starting this Monday.

Victims receive clothing and water from volunteers in Pompeya, an irregular camp in Viña del Mar.Victims receive clothing and water from volunteers in Pompeya, an irregular camp in Viña del Mar. AILEN DÍAZ (EFE)

About 40 kilometers south of Viña del Mar, the smoke and the smell of scorched earth sting your eyes and dry your throat. The remnants of the voracious forest fire at the height of Peñuelas, where some small outbreaks can still be seen, apparently brought under control by improving climatic conditions, mark the entrance to the Valparaíso region, located about 120 kilometers from Santiago. Those affected are demanding the presence of the military, which has been deployed in the most affected areas by order of President Boric, but many have not yet seen it. They wait in fear for the third night since the flames devastated thousands of houses and forest areas.

Boric, who visited the region this Sunday, announced that only the Legal Medical Service (SML) – the state agency responsible for identification – would report the number of deaths. Chile painfully awaits every single report that increases the number of victims over the course of the day: While there were 64 deaths shortly before 2 p.m., nine hours later, at 11 p.m., the death toll rose to 112. On On Monday morning the number rose to 122, with the announcement of the handover of the first bodies.

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From the region of the disaster, the Undersecretary of the Interior, Manuel Monsalve, was responsible for reporting the 112 fatalities, of which only 32 were identified, and that 38 autopsies were carried out by the SML, reinforced with forensic pathologists from all over the country in case of emergency . In addition, there are 10 bodies that can be returned to their families. In light of the tragedy, Boric announced in the afternoon that the death toll “will increase significantly,” and he did so to prepare society for the worst.

The number of affected houses is increasing. Monsalve, the undersecretary, has reported that there is a forecast of up to 12,000 in Viña del Mar – about 31,000 people – and 2,000 in Quilpué – more than 7,000 people.

A woman waits for victims in an emergency shelter.A woman waits for victims at a shelter.SOFIA YANJARI (Portal)

The forest fires in Chile have hit the central south of the country, particularly the Valparaíso region. In Viña del Mar, due to the intensity of the damage, it has not yet been possible to collect, quantify or identify all the human remains that have died in the flames since Friday night: many victims were hit by the fire while fleeing. Therefore, the government's priority is to save lives and put out the fire, said Interior Minister Carolina Tohá.

There were also two tasks: reaching the victims with relief supplies and counting the total number of dead. “Hopefully today we can lift the bodies of most of the victims,” Tohá said on Sunday, adding that these works on Saturday were very complex due to the difficult access to the places still devastated by the flames.

The charred remains of two cars on the side of the road, this Sunday in Viña del Mar.The charred remains of two cars on the side of the road, this Sunday in Viña del Mar.SOFIA YANJARI (Portal)

Viña del Mar Mayor Macarena Ripamonti reported that the number of missing people reached 190, but the information was not confirmed by the central energy authorities grouped in the Disaster Risk Management Committee (Cogrid). You carry out several balance sheets every day.

In the middle of summer, the cities of Viña del Mar, Quilpué, Limache and Villa Alemana have had to observe curfews since Friday night, which may remain in force for several more days, Boric reported. Authorities are trying to help with emergencies, facilitate evacuations when necessary, and, along the way, protect what little or nothing remains from theft. In these hours, among the ashes and smoke, there are those who robbed the victims of the fires.

But it's not just pain that Chile is dealing with. Suspicions are also growing that the fires were deliberate, which is why the Public Prosecutor's Office has already opened an investigation in the Las Tablas sector of Pueñuelas, where the fire broke out on Friday. President Boric said he had ordered “all information” to be collected. “It is difficult to imagine that there could be such miserable and heartless people who could cause so much death and pain. But if these people exist, we will look for them, we will find them, and they will face not only the rejection of society as a whole, but also the full force of the law.”

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