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Aus navy evacuates tourists, residents from fire-ravaged southeastern town


Aus navy evacuates tourists, residents from fire-ravaged southeastern town
Representative Image Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Australian navy on Friday evacuated hundreds of tourists and residents trapped in a bushfire, as the catastrophic blazes ripped through the states of New South Wales and Victoria, killing at least 20 people and destroying nearly 500 homes, as the country braced for the worst during the weekend. About 4,000 people, including some 3,000 tourists, have been stranded in the Victoria's Mallacoota region since they were forced to shelter on the foreshore as the fire approached on New Year's eve.

About 1,000 people were ferried to the naval vessels HMAS Choules and MV Sycamore, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported. Australian states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria are facing severe bushfire conditions as death toll touched 16 in NSW while two were confirmed dead in Victoria and South Australia.

Roads have been blocked by the still-burning blaze and could take weeks to clear in and out of the isolated town, in Victoria's far east. Heavy smoke has hung in the air. According to media reports on Friday, NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) confirmed 449 homes were destroyed on the South Coast since the New Year's eve taking the total number of properties destroyed this fire season to 1,365, with 501 homes damaged.

The RFS said more than 9,000 homes were saved by the efforts of firefighters across the state. In Victoria, two people were confirmed dead and 28 were still missing with authorities urging 100,000 locals to leave their homes ahead of worsening bushfire conditions over the weekend.

For the first time in history, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Thursday night declared a state of disaster for the eastern half of the state. He said the declaration provided "for formal evacuations of townships and areas" and sent a clear message that "if you can leave, you must leave", and would stay in place for a week.

The declaration allows the state government to take possession of the private property to respond to the fires, control movement in and out of the disaster area and direct any of its agencies to perform or stop performing "any function, power, duty or responsibility". NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian also declared a week-long state of emergency starting on Friday morning due to the ongoing crisis.

NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Saturday was likely to bring conditions more dangerous than New Year's eve when bushfires left seven dead and thousands in peril. "There'll be real challenges and very real risks associated with what's being forecast and predicted for fire spread under the sorts of weather conditions we're expecting as we head into Saturday," he said.

"The conditions on Saturday are likely to be worse than New Year's eve and a lot of those areas in the south-east quadrant of the state have the potential to be impacted — and impacted very heavily," he said. A "tourist leave zone" was also declared for a 14,000-square-kilometre area between Nowra, South Coast region of New South Wales and the edge of Victoria's northern border.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday indicated that he may cancel his planned first visit to India from January 13 due to the catastrophic bushfire crisis.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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