(Updates death toll, number of houses destroyed, paragraph 1)
By Anthony Esposito
VALPARAISO, Chile, April 13 At least 12 people
were killed and 2,000 houses destroyed over the weekend by a
fire that devastated parts of the Chilean port city of
Valparaiso, as authorities evacuated thousands and sent in
aircraft to battle the blaze.
Pushed by strong Pacific coast winds, the fire started on
Saturday and rampaged over 700 hectares (1,700 acres) of forest
and hilly residential neighborhoods including La Cruz and Las
Canas, authorities said.
"It is still not completely extinguished," said local
government official Ricardo Bravo, referring to lingering
pockets of fire still burning in the higher parts of the city
During the day firefighters used planes and helicopters to
drop water on the flames in the city 135 km (85 miles) northwest
of Santiago, where makeshift shelters started taking in the
Valparaiso's rolling hills and closely spaced houses, many
of them made of wood, make it difficult to combat fires. The
city, part gritty port town and part bohemian retreat, has a
large number of poor people.
By Sunday Valparaiso had become a stench-filled scene of
smoke, ash and sirens as residents picked through their gutted
"We are looking for something to remember our home by, but
there's nothing," Jose Miguel Rivera, 59, told Reuters as he
sifted through the ashes where his house used to be. "We are
thinking about rebuilding."
The Chilean Congress, which is housed in Valparaiso, was
spared by the blaze, as was the city's historic quarter with its
late 19th century architecture.
"We fled from the La Cruz neighborhood, from an apartment I
just got not too long ago. It's all burned down, my sister's
house also burnt to the ground," said Rosa Guzman as she stared
helplessly up at the hills.
There were no reports that exports of copper in the world's
No. 1 producer of the metal were affected by the fire.
President Michelle Bachelet declared a state of emergency
and sent the army to maintain order in the city. Marines
patrolled the streets while ambulance crews treated people for
smoke inhalation and other injuries.
This is the second emergency that Bachelet has faced in the
first month of her new term, after an 8.2 magnitude earthquake
slammed northern Chile at the start of April.
(Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer in Santiago; Writing
by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Sandra Maler, Mohammad Zargham and