People fear dead in Tasmania bushfire

2013-01-06 07:16:21 GMT2013-01-06 15:16:21(Beijing Time)  SINA.com

Several people were missing and feared dead Sunday after wildfires swept through the Australian island state of Tasmania, forcing thousands to flee as residents described trees exploding in the heat.

Acting Tasmania police commissioner Scott Tilyard said officers were investigating several reports of missing persons after fires ravaged the south of the state.

"I am fearful that someone may have died in this fire... it is a very distinct possibility still and I think people need to brace themselves that that may occur," Tilyard told reporters, saying there were grave fears in a "handful" of cases.

"Whilst we have had no known deaths associated with these fires at this particular point in time, I want to make it quite clear that it is still far too early to confirm that that is not the case," he added.

Police and troops were going door to door in the worst-hit town of Dunalley to search for the missing and confirm no lives had been lost in conditions officials had described as catastrophic.

Almost 3,000 people were evacuated from their homes and many were stranded Sunday in emergency shelters as the fires raged to the east and west of the state capital Hobart, cutting off roads.

Residents returning to the wreckage of their homes described the devastation as "armageddon", while others recounted desperate moments as the fire tore through, forcing them to take shelter in the Dunalley canal.

One family was saved by a water-bombing aircraft which arrived overhead as flames surrounded their waterfront caravan. They were armed only with buckets.

Wildfires are a fact of life in arid Australia, where 173 people perished in the 2009 Black Saturday firestorm, the nation's worst natural disaster of modern times.

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