By Eva Vergara Associated Press
SANTIAGO, Chile — A Sunday morning fire tore through a nursing home in southern Chile, killing 9 seniors and their caretaker.
The nursing home is located near the city of Paillaco, some 540 miles (870 kilometers) south of the Chilean capital, Santiago. Police say neighbors were able to rescue three people, but Paillaco Mayor Ramona Reyes said all others died in the blaze because the nursing home had locked patients inside their rooms.
“The rescue by the community was not possible because when they tried to reach them at the two-story wooden house, all rooms were under lock,” Reyes told local Radio Cooperativa. “It’s a terrible, regretful situation that has appalled us.”
Most of the 12 patients at the nursing home lived with disabilities and mental illnesses. Reyes said the facility had all the permits required by Chile’s health service, but the building’s infrastructure was inadequate.
The nursing home’s owner denied that, saying all the patients were self-sufficient and the rooms were unlocked.
“There was a staircase that was left locked. They were all in their rooms but not under lock,” Silvia Magaly Zapata told Radio Cooperativa. “Besides, they were all self-sufficient and woke up early. They were wonderful people, although schizophrenic.”
Local media reported that firefighters struggled to contain the blaze because nearby hydrants failed, forcing them to use water from a swimming pool several miles (kilometers) down the road.
Police and prosecutors have been at the scene collecting evidence to investigate the cause of the blaze. Officials have yet to release the names of the dead. Three people, who were rescued by neighbors, are being treated at a local hospital for minor injuries.