Valparaiso Volunteers Killed
Forty-six members of the Valparaiso, Chile, Volunteer Fire Department met death, along with ten civilians, and approximately 500 other persons suffered injuries, when 20 tons of blasting powder exploded in a burning warehouse on January 1, 1953.
It is believed a reveller, celebrating the New Year, tossed a firecracker into a lumber shed, touching off a fire that quickly enveloped a highway department warehouse and which swept out of control through seven buildings.
Scores of persons were watching the volunteer firetnent fight the blaze when, at 2:20 A.M., the first of a series of violent explosions rocked the entire city. This and succeeding blasts blew apart the warehouse, filled the Avenida Brasil with flying debris, injuring or killing nearly everyone at the scene. The blast toppled ladders and firemen who were fighting the warehouse blaze, burying many under the debris. Other firemen were hurled into the blazing ruins of the building.
Rescue efforts were begun as quickly as additional aid could be summoned. Troops in Valparaiso and Aconcagua provinces were recalled to their stations by an emergency order. Medical aid was rushed from Santiago, the capitol, in a shuttle service of military and civilian planes. Nurses and doctors with medicine and supplies were brought to Valparaiso from a wide area to treat the more than 200 seriously injured.
By January 3 the death toll had reached 56, with many still in critical condition.
While a three-day mourning period was being decreed, authorities ordered the arrest of Alejandro Lacallc, engineer of Valparaiso province, on grounds he ordered the explosives stored in the warehouse.
Mass services were held on the 3rd for the fifty-six victims, at which President Carlos Ibanez, his entire Cabinet, and foreign diplomats and other important persons attended.