Aussies evacuated as new bushfire threat looms

A satellite image shows bushfire smoke being blown away from Australia towards New Zealand on...
A satellite image shows bushfire smoke being blown away from Australia towards New Zealand on Thursday. Image NOAA via Reuters
The Australian navy has begun evacuating some of the thousands of people stranded on the east coast of the fire-ravaged country as a searing weather front is set to whip up more blazes across the states of Victoria and New South Wales.

Bushfires so far this season have scorched more than 4 million hectares of bushland and destroyed over 1000 homes, including 381 homes on the south coast just this week.

At the peak of the summer holiday period, tens of thousands of holidaymakers were urged to leave national parks and tourist areas on the NSW south coast and eastern areas of Victoria before a return of temperatures above 40degC and strong winds on Saturday.

Victoria declared a state of disaster for the first time, giving authorities broad powers to compel people to leave their properties and take control of services, similar to the state of emergency that has been declared in NSW.

Andrew Crisp, emergency management commissioner for Victoria, urged people in at-risk areas to leave their homes immediately and not count on luck to avoid disaster.

"This is your opportunity to get out. It is not just the fires we know. It is the new fires that might start today," he told ABC News.

Another death from the fires in NSW was confirmed on Friday, taking the toll in the state this week to eight. Two people have died in Victoria's fires, and 28 others are unaccounted for.

The navy's HMAS Choules and Sycamore started the evacuations of nearly 1000 of the 4000 people stranded on a beach in the isolated town of Malla­coota in far-east Victoria, federal member of parliament Darren Chester tweeted on Friday morning.

With all roads blocked, sea transport is the only way out of the stricken town and each round trip could take a day or more.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison had called for calm on Thursday, before visiting the fire-devastated NSW town of Cobargo where he was not entirely welcome.

Video showed Morrison confronted by a group of angry locals, one of whom shouted he should be "ashamed of himself" and said he had "left the country to burn".

Speaking to the ABC, Morrison said he understood there were strong feelings.

"They have lost everything and there are still some very dangerous days ahead," he said.

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance, whose represents the local area and is from the same party as the Prime Minister, said he had not heard from Morrison and did not know he was visiting the area.

"To be honest the locals probably gave him the welcome he probably deserved," he told Channel 7.

Morrison's conservative government has long drawn criticism for not doing enough to address climate change as a cause of Australia's savage drought and fires.

Anthony Albanese, head of the opposition Labor Party, called for a national response to a national emergency.

"We haven't, in my lifetime, had people on beaches waiting to be evacuated in life jackets...like it's a peacetime version of something that we have seen during wartime. This is not business as usual," he said in a media conference.

The New Zealand Government said it would send another 22 firefighters next week. Since October, New Zealand has deployed 157 firefighters to Australia.

A contingent of 39 firefighters from North America landed in Melbourne this week, bringing to almost 100 the number of US and Canadian experts who have flown in to help deal with the crisis.

 

 

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