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At least 110 killed in Chile wildfires

The death toll from wildfires in central Chile has climbed to at least 112 people, after President Gabriel Boric warned the number would rise “significantly” as teams search gutted neighbourhoods.

Responders continued to battle fires in the coastal tourist region of Valparaiso amid an intense heat wave, with temperatures soaring to 40 degrees Celsius over the weekend.

The Interior Ministry said that the medical examiner’s office had received 112 bodies, 32 of whom have been identified, and that there are 40 fires still active in the country.

Speaking earlier in Quilpue, a devastated hillside community near Vina del Mar, Mr Boric had said the death toll was at 64 but said “we know it is going to increase significantly,” adding it was the country’s deadliest disaster since a 2010 earthquake and tsunami that killed 500 people.

Vina del Mar mayor Macarena Ripamonti told reporters “190 people are still missing” in the city.

“Not a single house was left here,” Lilian Rojas, 67, said of her neighbourhood near the Vina del Mar botanical garden, which was also destroyed in the flames.

State of emergency declared

Mr Boric, who met with fire survivors at a Vina del Mar hospital yesterday, has declared a state of emergency, pledging government support to help people get back on their feet.

According to national disaster service SENAPRED, nearly 26,000 hectares (64,000 acres) had been burned across the central and southern regions.

Supported by 31 firefighting helicopters and airplanes, some 1,400 firefighters, 1,300 military personnel and volunteers are combating the flames.

SENAPRED chief Alvaro Hormazabal, noting the dozens of blazes still burning out of control, said weather “conditions are going to continue to be complicated.”

People walk past burned vehicles after a forest fire in Quilpue, Viña del Mar

Authorities have imposed a curfew, while thousands in the affected areas were ordered to evacuate their homes.

In the hillsides around Vina del Mar, reporters saw entire blocks of houses that were burned out.

The fires, raging for days, forced authorities to close the road linking the Valparaiso region to the capital Santiago, about one-and-a-half hours away, as a huge mushroom cloud of smoke impaired visibility.

Images posted online from trapped motorists showed mountains in flames at the end of the famous ‘Route 68’ leading to the Pacific coast.

Interior Minister Carolina Toha said the weekend blazes have been “without a doubt” the deadliest fire event in Chile’s history.

Cars and houses burning in Viña del Mar,where 190 people are still missing

Pope Francis, a native of neighbouring Argentina, called for prayers for the “dead and wounded in the devastating fires in Chile.”

The fires are being driven by a 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.

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