Chile Struck By Disasters in April 2014

In April 2014, Chileans received one blow after another. Two earthquakes shook the Far North (Arica and Iquique) and an enormous forest fire ravaged the city of Valparaiso. In both cases, the damage and number of victims were significant.


Photo by Flickr user retoricaca. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The hills of Valparaiso are a symbol of the city. Their bright colors, architecture, and other characteristics give Valaparaiso its touristic appeal. The hillside regions were settled haphazardly as the growing population, faced with a lack of space on flatter terrain, began to build homes in the mountainous areas. The dwellings are mostly made out of light materials and, as has happened in the past, became fuel for the fire. This time, climate conditions also played an important role in the spread of the flames.

National and international aid began to arrive immediately in the form of provisions, first-aid supplies, and volunteer participation. Thousands of volunteers have filled Valparaiso to the point that the mayor and city authorities requested no more volunteers should come to join those already in the city. The large number of volunteers is interfering with the removal of debris and causing traffic problems in affected areas (the hills Cerro Mariposa, El Vergel, La Cruz, Cerro El Litre, Cerro Las Cañas, Cerro Miguel Ángel y Mercedes), and the city's sanitation network cannot cope with the needs of so many people [es]:

Agradecemos las campañas pero a aquellos voluntarios que vendrán a Valparaíso les decimos que es imposible que podamos atender a todas las personas. Tenemos una red sanitaria que hoy no existe, en algunos sectores no hay luz.

We are grateful for the [aid] campaigns, but we must tell the volunteers who are coming to Valparaiso that it is impossible to accomodate everyone. Our sanitation system is currently nonexistent and some areas do not have light.

EMOL website reports [es] that “the Minister of Health, Helia Molina, announced the implementation of a health alert in the entire area.” Molina also announced a plan to vaccinate adults and children in order to avoid preventable illnesses such as the flu (for those in shelters), tetanus (for at-risk groups like firefighters, city workers, and volunteers working on debris removal), and meningitis (for at-risk groups in the area).

All in all, it is admirable and inspiring to watch people who fled from the fire with nothing but the clothes on their backs, leaving behind all their hard-earned belongings, begin to clean up the area and rebuild their homes with great determination. And the epitome is seeing the people of limited means who are coming to the aid of those who lost everything.

Meanwhile, help is continuing to arrive at aid supply centers, shelters are continuing to deliver the aid they have been providing since the disaster, and plans for reconstruction are already underway, as evidenced by Twitter posts:

The Chilean Government will prepare a plan to rebuild Valparaiso after the fire.

The President of Chile announces that she will issue aid bonds to those who lost their homes and possessions in the fire in Valparaiso.

The funds raised at these two [basketball] games will directly benefit the more than 12 thousand people affected by the fire in Valparaiso.

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