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The latest on the wildfires that have killed more than 120 people in Chile

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The death toll from forest fires raging in Chile has reached more than 120 people. It could climb higher. Hundreds remain missing. The country is observing two days of national mourning. Much of the western coast of South America has been gripped with extreme hot and dry weather due to an El Nino weather pattern this year. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAINSAWS RUNNING)

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Volunteers work to clear fallen trees on the road around the once grand Botanical Gardens on the hill above the seaside cities of Valparaiso and nearby Vina del Mar. Forest fires roared through neighborhoods here, whipped by high winds, burning everything in sight. Daisy Lambert helps her neighbors clear burned rubble and ashes.

DAISY LAMBERT: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "So many old people died. They burned inside their home," she says.

LAMBERT: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "If I hadn't come and gotten my father and sister out, they would have died, too," she says. Authorities say some bodies are so badly burned, identification is difficult. At least 3,000 homes have been lost or damaged. President Gabriel Boric promises government help for this, quote, "grave emergency."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT GABRIEL BORIC: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "This is the most catastrophic disaster to hit our country since the 2010 earthquake," says Boric. More than 500 people died then. Interior Minister Carolina Toha Morales says an investigation is underway into the cause of some of the biggest fires.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAROLINA TOHA MORALES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "There are plenty of signs," she says, "that the blazes may have been intentionally set." The governor of Valparaiso region said over the weekend that four fires appeared to have begun at the same time.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBRIS SHIFTING)

KAHN: Alexander Kowalski's 50-year-old home miraculously is still standing, but the 45-year-old says his neighbors weren't so lucky.

ALEXANDER KOWALSKI: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says he's seen a lot of burned bodies, which has been very difficult.

KOWALSKI: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He and his neighbors are keeping guard throughout the night against looters, which he says is a problem despite a 9 p.m. curfew. With John Bartlett in Valparaiso, Chile, I'm Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

(SOUNDBITE OF NAV AND DON TOLIVER SONG, "ONE TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.