Sydney, Jan 3 (IANS) The Australian Navy on Friday began sea evacuations of thousands of people trapped by bushfires which have been burning out of control in the southeast of the country and killed at least 19 people since they started in September.
The operation seeks to rescue around 4,000 residents and tourists stranded for days at a beach in Mallacoota, Victoria state, where authorities confirmed the death of a second victim, while at least 28 people remain missing, reports Efe news.
“The evacuation operation at #Mallacoota has begun with the first group of people being transferred into Choules and MV Sycamore for relocation to Western Port, Victoria,” the Royal Australian Navy tweeted, along with photos of one of its ships surrounded by smoke, with a red sky in the background.
On Thursday night, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews declared a state of disaster for a period of a month in six areas affected by the fires, and warned of catastrophic conditions in the eastern parts of the state, where temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius are expected on Saturday.
The disaster declaration was established in 2009 after the “Black Saturday” fires in Victoria, which killed 173 people in what is considered the worst nature-related disaster in Australia.
“Essentially this declaration is the first time these powers have been used because we face unprecedented risk to life and property in coming days,” Andrews said in a statement.
In the neighbouring state of New South Wales (NSW), the worst affected by the bushfires, thousands of people were attempting to flee the affected areas in the southern coast ahead of Saturday, and the region witnessed chaotic scenes and traffic congestion on Friday.
The NSW police confirmed the death of a 72-year-old man, which took this week’s bushfire death toll in the country to 10, with eight of the deaths being registered in NSW where the fires have destroyed 1,365 houses, including 449 since the start of 2020.
The raging bushfires have led to rising popular discontent against Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was criticized for holidaying in Hawaii two weeks ago in the middle of the crisis.
Video footage showed residents’ anger towards the prime minister during his tour of affected areas on Thursday, with some people refusing to shake hands with him and others calling him an idiot.
Groups of university students are set to carry out marches in different cities of the country on Friday to call for more funds to be assigned to firefighters and stricter measures against climate change.