Fires sweeping through the Chilean city of Valparaiso has prompted the president to declare a state of emergency. The flames have destroyed homes in poorer areas and have claimed at least a dozen lives.
"This could be the worst fire in the city's history," Chilean President Michelle Bachelet told reporters late Sunday as smoke continued to billow from the city's hilltops where fires had broken out the day before, stoked by high temperatures and strong winds.
"The people of Valparaiso have courage, have strength and they aren't alone," Bachalet added.
Since Saturday, at least 12 people have been killed in the fires, according to Chile's interior ministry. It warned that the death toll could rise once rescue teams could begin searching for missing persons.
The disaster has driven 8,000 people from their homes into now overflowing shelters. Initial figures put the number of homes destroyed so far between 500 and 2,000.
President Bachalet authorized the deployment of 2,000 of military personnel to assist firefighters in their emergency operation.
A blaze quickly swept across an underdeveloped area above the city center on Saturday, which lacks proper water and natural gas supplies. The neighborhoods situated on the affected hilltops proved a challenge for emergency responders who often could not gain access to the narrow streets with fire trucks.
Valparaiso, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for its cobblestone streets and colorful architecture. Its historic district has been spared from the disaster thus far.
kms/av (AP, AFP)