This is my host family, my Chilean family. On Mother’s Day we sat down for Chinese food and red wine so that my host mom didn’t have to cook. Afterwards, we continued with una torta and hours of table-talk. Anyone who ever tries to tell you that Chilean mealtimes are short and void of conversation are liars.
Needless to say, they’re incredible.
una torta – cake
I’ve been stopped by at least 10 people in the last month to ask a question or for directions. The second I try to help, I get the same response, “Oh, you’re not Chilean? Excuse me.”
I’m both flattered and insulted. I’m stoked that I don’t stick out like a sore thumb, but at the same time, it pains me that my Spanish distracts people from wanting my help. Just because I stumble over syllables, doesn’t mean I don’t know that the Starbucks in San Martin is closer to the Casino than it is to Libertad.
The first thing I smelled was burnt. Burnt what? I don’t know. Not that it mattered — everything around me was scorched or steaming. The accessories of the day became gloves and surgical masks. What was yesterday a neighborhood, now sounded more like a construction site.
Throughout the morning, helicopters and planes flew overheard. They dumped water on us to extinguish any remaining flames, hot coals. Much of the areas were still too hot to clear and need to cool down.
Cerro Ramaditas, a neighborhood located high up in the Valparaiso hills, fell victim to the re-ignition of Saturday’s fire. Over 150 houses were destroyed.
fuego, humo y unas manos amigas – fire, smoke and helping hands
The roads are blocked. Everyone is trying to either go or come; cars packed like sardines with cosas – things – and people. The beds of pickup trucks transport volunteers to areas where the fire still burns and medics need assistance.
Enter an elderly, unnamed man from the sur – South – of the Chile. He is a humble man, like the friendly neighbor.
Saturday night was his worst nightmare, “el imagen” of it. He came to Valparaiso for a different way of life from the south, everything was here.
He and his family lost everything to the fire. While I speak to him, I meet his son, grandson and nephew. There are more around him. They are in a makeshift home in a car park with a tent, small caravan, pot of rice and other possessions.
On Saturday, April 12 a fire started in the cerros altos of Valparaiso and quickly spread due to winds, a dry climate and, in some areas, lack of water. The powerful fire raged on for more than 24 hours, destroying over 500 homes.
On Saturday evening, the power was cut in much of the city due to two electrical explosions related to the fire.
Chilean President announced the city of Valparaiso in a state of emergency and the military was called in to help protect the city and its citizens. Emergency vehicles arrived and are attending to the scene from all over the region — including Santiago.
As of Sunday mid-day, 11 people in total had been killed; over 10,000 people have been evacuated thus far.
Local churches, universities and schools are sheltering the displaced, distributing supplies and aiding the injured.
According to El Mundo, At approximately 4:30 p.m., the fire re-started along another part of the city. As of the writing of this post, it is still being combated by firefighters.
A man rushes across the street, speaking rapidly on the phone. Down the block, a donation center distributed clothes and supplies to the displaced.
One affected area has turned into a traffic jam as loved ones and friends reunite.
The view from central Valparaiso. The smoke of the fire could be seen from all parts of Viña del Mar and Valparaiso.
Just beyond the crowds, an open bed pickup truck rides off. It is filled with victims and volunteers traveling back up to the affected areas, in the cerros altos — the neighborhoods in the high hills.
Soldiers stand post, direct citizens.
A water tank for the public, a military truck and a pickup truck. After President Michele Bachelet announced a state of emergency for the city, the military was called in.
A resident looks on at the destruction. Her arm is scribbled with the digits of a number to contact her friend whose house was destroyed.
In an open area, cars park, generators are planted, and makeshift houses go up.
A helicopter flies overhead, bringing water, supplies. Emergency vehicles swarmed to the scene all day and night.
Valparaiso: the contrast between what is and is not.
According to a military personnel, the effects could take up to two years to recover from.
Staircases, in a way the backbone of Valparaiso’s cerros, exposed after the fire.
As people returned to their homes, the cerros sounded similar to construction sites. Crunching, crashing and shouts became the soundtrack for the day.
Victims dig through the foundations of their homes. More than 2000 acres of Valparaiso were burned in the fire.
Smoke still rising from the ruins, the cerros – hills – stand in ashes.
Some of the ru
The Urrea family where their home once stood. Their dog — a small black terrier — was killed in the fire.
Mauricio Gonzalez Adonis stands in front of the animal shelter that he built with his family in less than 24 hours.
Below the shelter is a drop to a destroyed home. The ground is soft gravel and scorched plants.
The shelter currently holds more or less a dozen animals.
The shelter is below another house that the family built at the same time.
Members of the Adonis family and friends help in the shelter: giving food, taking in animals.
A stray dog rests outside the shelter. According to Adonis, hundreds of stray dogs died in the fire.
In the wake of the Valparaiso fire, Mauricio Gonzalez Adonis is looking out for the animals.
“Es una guardaria,” he said. A shelter.
With the help of family and friends, he built the structure in less than 24 hours to take in any dog, cat, “or whatever,” that are brought.
“When did you decide to start this…organization?”
“4 p.m. ayer,” he said. Yesterday afternoon and today it is fully functioning with a second, larger house next door.
Adonis himself lives approximately 100 km away, safe from the fire, but came to help when he heard about the fire. His nephew and family lost everything in the fire.
I walked, slipped down the hill and the man — Juan Urrea, 32 — grabbed my hand to help me. He motioned me to watched my step. “Caliente, it’s hot there,” he said. There was still steam rising up from the broken china plates. I looked around, taken aback by the charred hills, asked him how he was effected.
We were standing where his house once stood.
You could feel the heat rising, melting your soles. The Urrea Family stands in what was once their home, they pick through the destruction. There is a small box where they have been collecting peso coins found in the rubble. One of the men used a hose to rinse off most of the area — steam was still rising from the area. “Es terrible…terrible,” Juan Orrea Sr. said. He looked at me straight in the eye. He described the night, hand-gestures starting low then rising up to the sky. His pupils dialated – “todos los partes, acá” – the fire was everywhere. According to El Mercurio, a Chilean news source, over 10,000 were evacuated. 11 people died.