Sunday April 13, 2014
My heart broke when I woke up this morning. Valparaíso is on fire.
Just yesterday, I was
strolling climbing through its hills, taking in the tranquil scenery of the Pacific Ocean, breathing in the salty ocean breeze, sampling cakes from the dozens of pastry shops around town, snapping pictures of the colorful houses and steps. Taking beautiful pictures is easy there when it’s such a photogenic city.
Just yesterday, we happily left in the later part of the afternoon. By midnight, Valparaíso was in flames.
Valparaíso is a historical seaport city with a gritty 19th century charm. But the real charm lies in its hills. The town is surrounded by dozens of hills, where the city’s inhabitants live. Colorful houses are built into steep hills, stacked on top of each other, in such a way that getting to a house may mean climbing hundreds of narrow stairs. It’s not hard to imagine that a disaster in the hills could be absolutely catastrophic.
As I know it – a fire started in the hills, and quickly jumped from hilltop to hilltop, spreading downwards at alarming rates, helped by the strong Pacific winds in that area.
“Valparaíso is without electricity at the moment and this means the flame column is creating a Dante-esque panorama and is advancing in an apparently uncontrollable manner,” – statement from Jorge Castro, the city’s mayor.
– from bbc.com (when I woke up this morning)
I can’t believe what I’m seeing!!
I originally had a post planned about our mini 3 day/2 night getaway to Valparaíso. I planned to talk about the sites we visited, how we really enjoyed our rental in Cerro Bellavista, and how we had a lovely time despite our inability to find decent chow. And despite admitting to each other that we didn’t fall in love with the city. But that doesn’t seem right anymore.
My heart goes out to the hundreds of people whose houses have burned and who have lost all their treasured memories. For the thousands who were forced to evacuate their homes. For those who perished in the blaze. For those who are now suffering from smoke inhalation. For the brave firefighters who risked their lives to save the hillside. For the babies, the elderly, and everyone in between to know such tragedy.
In a way, I can’t believe we were so lucky to have missed the fire by mere hours. So many factors could have contributed to us being caught up in this disaster. We could have left today as originally planned. We could have extended our stay by one night as briefly contemplated. We could have chosen to visit Valparaíso next weekend… when things would have been different.
I still plan on sharing pictures from my trip. I feel like that now, more so than ever, my experience there needs to be memorialized. But for now, I pray for the residents of Valparaíso.
May they stay strong and brave. And may their beautiful city be returned to them soon.
The seaport city of Valparaíso, Chile is a UNESCO world heritage site, located 100km northwest of Santiago. In its heyday in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was the main port to the entire country, open to international trade with Europe and America. This fire is reported to be the worst fire to hit the city since 1953.