President Gabriel Boric says his country is facing a ‘tragedy of very great magnitude’.
The death toll from raging wildfires in Chile has risen to at least 99 people, with hundreds more missing, authorities have said.
President Gabriel Boric on Sunday warned that casualties would rise “significantly” as forest fires continued to blaze in the central region of Valparaiso.
“It is Chile as a whole that suffers and mourns our dead,” Boric said in a televised speech. “We are facing a tragedy of very great magnitude.”
Authorities said 200 people were reported missing in and around the city of Viña del Mar, a popular beach resort where some of the most intense fires have raged.
Several neighbourhoods on the eastern edge of the city, which is known for its annual international music festival, were destroyed by flames, leaving residents to sift through the remains of their burnt-out homes.
Boric on Friday declared a state of emergency as he pledged support for people trying to recover from the disaster.
“We are together, all of us, fighting the emergency,” he said. “The priority is to save lives.”
Almost 26,000 hectares (64,000 acres) of land had been burned across the Latin American country’s central and southern regions as of Sunday, according to the national disaster service SENAPRED.
Some 1,400 firefighters and 1,300 military personnel, as well as 31 firefighting helicopters and aeroplanes, have been deployed to fight the fires, according to authorities.
Wildfires are not uncommon in Chile during the summer months and about 27 people died in a spate of blazes in the south-central region of the country last year.
This season’s fires, however, have been far deadlier than past blazes, including fires in 2017 that killed at least 11 people and were widely described as the worst in the country’s history.
During his Sunday address, Pope Francis, who hails from neighbouring Argentina, called for prayers for the “dead and wounded in the devastating fires in Chile”.
The fires followed record high temperatures, low humidity and high wind speeds in central Chile driven by the El Niño weather pattern.
Scientists have warned that natural disasters such as wildfires are likely to become more common due to warming temperatures caused by climate change.