Mon, February 09, 2009
Video > News/Media > Deadly wildfires in Australia

Scores die in Australian fire

2009-02-09 06:27:07 GMT2009-02-09 14:27:07 (Beijing Time)  Reuters

The death toll in a massive Australian bushfire rose to over 80 Sunday, making it the deadliest bushfire in Australian history.

The fire storm tore through several towns north of Melbourne on Saturday night, killing people in their cars as they tried to flee or as they huddled in their homes.

Police expect the death toll to rise further as they search the ruins of hundreds of homes and businesses. Visiting the burnt out region, Australia's prime minister, Kevin Rudd, called the disaster "an appalling tragedy."

Wildfires are a natural annual event in Australia, but this year a combination of scorching weather, drought and tinder-dry bush has created prime conditions for blazes to take hold.

SCRIPT:

The small town of Marysville, which had stood for more than a century, was reduced to smouldering ashes in just a few hours.

SOUNDBITE) (English) BUSHFIRE VICTIM DELICE GUSCOTT, SAYING

"It was a firestorm, and it came to us from three sides."

The deadliest wild fires in Australia's history are now known to have killed more than 80 people and destroyed hundreds of homes.

Searing heat and strong winds sent a wall of flame racing through towns and farmland near Melbourne in the state of Victoria.

The speed of the advancing inferno left many with no chance of escape: people perished in their vehicles trying to flee the firestorm; others burned to death in their homes.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) UNKNOWN RESIDENT, SAYING:

"We heard some poor girl down there screaming for help and we couldn't do anything because we had to save ourselves."

The small Kinglake township, an hour's drive northeast of Melbourne, was virtually razed to the ground.

18 people are thought to have died here.

Dazed survivors struggled to comprehend the devastation.

Others recounted how close they'd come to death.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) UNIDENTIFIED RESIDENT, SAYING:

"If we had've been another five minutes we would not have made it because it was just so sudden it was a fireball that came down off the mountain."

Hospitals are overwhelmed with casualties.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) ALFRED HOSPITAL SPOKESPERSON DOCTOR JOHN COLERIDGE, SAYING:

"Well most of these people have burns and they range from minor just the soles of their feet running away through embers to people who've got major life-threatening burns and unfortunately there are some people who will not survive."

The Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd visited the burnt out region, clearly shocked by the scale of the devastation which he called "indescribably awful.".

(SOUNDBITE) (English) AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER KEVIN RUDD, SAYING:

"This is an appalling tragedy for Victoria but because of that, it's an appalling tragedy for the nation."

The danger isn't over yet..thousands of firefighters are still battling scores of blazes in Victoria and New South Wales.

Wildfires are a natural annual event in Australia, but this year a combination of scorching weather, drought and tinder-dry bush has created prime conditions for blazes to take hold.

The previous worst bushfire tragedy was in 1983 when 75 people were killed in the "Ash Wednesday" fires.

It's clear this disaster will far eclipse that one.

Police say they are finding more bodies as they search through gutted communities.

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