Death Toll From Chile Wildfires Surpasses 130 With More Than 300 People Still Missing

Chile is currently in a massive rescue and recovery effort after the nation has been enduring what the United Nations disaster agency is calling the deadliest wildfires on record. The fires have unfortunately claimed over 130 lives with hundreds of others still missing. 

Officials have stated more than 30 bodies have been identified, and the death toll is expected to rise, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. 

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The wildfires have taken over central and northern Chile, and have destroyed thousands of homes, buildings, and neighborhoods which are now covered in ash. 

President Gabriel Boric on Tuesday stated that the wildfires have been the “biggest tragedy” in Chile since the deadly 2010 earthquakes, which had a magnitude of 8.8 that killed hundreds. 

“The inhabitants of Viña del Mar, of Quilpué, of Villa Alemana, have gone through and are experiencing a situation that has been tremendously catastrophic, exceptional, unprecedented and painful.”

President Boric also declared an official state of emergency on Sunday while coastal cities including Viña del Mar and Valparaiso were overtaken by smoke. The fires moved from forested areas to more of the urban landscapes of Chile. 

The president also declared Monday and Tuesday as days of national mourning for the victims of the wildfire as well as the devastated neighborhoods that have been burned down. 

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El Niño, a natural climate fluctuation that has a global heating effect, has been driving the major impacts of the wildfires in Chile. That, combined with the long term effects of global warming, which is fueling more intense and more frequent drought, heat waves, and general natural disasters around the world. 

For the last decade, Chile has been dealing with what’s been called a “mega-drought,” and according to reports it’s been the longest drought in at least 1,000 years, which has only further fueled the recent wildfires.

The nation has also been experiencing extremely high temperatures in combination with the wildfires. Capital of Chile, Santiago, hit 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit at the end of January, which is the third-highest recorded temperature in the nation in more than a century, according to the World Meteorological Agency. 

According to a study published in the journal Nature, a total of 1.7 million hectares have burned in Chile within the last decade due to increased wildfire activity.