Australia — It was with deep sorrow that I learned about the great tragedy that happened in Australia, the massive forest fires that swept through the south-eastern part of the continent. This has caused significant damage to the economy and, most tragically, has claimed the lives of many people the message of the President of Russia reads.
Please convey my sincere condolences, words of sympathy and support to the friends and relatives of the deceased and my wishes for a quick recovery to the victims.
While still burning, the Victorian bushfires of the 7th of February 2009 are already considered to be Australias biggest natural disaster with over 170 fatalities and over 700 homes lost. As well as my own motivation, I was asked by a number of my subscribers to make a video tribute to the members and volunteers of the Country Fire Authority, (CFA). This small tribute is also dedicated to all the other emergency services and welfare agencies who were involved in assisting those who have suffered due to this horrendous tragedy.
To donate to the Victorian Bushfire appeal go to http://www.redcross.org.au There is a dedicated Victorian Bushfires section on this site and 100% of all donations will go directly to the bushfire appeal.
The toll from Australia`s wildfires could exceed 200 dead, a top official said Tuesday, as investigators warned it will take months to identify the bodies and determine whether arsonists were responsible for the worst blaze which killed scores of people.
Police have so far confirmed 181 deaths as the fires ripped across the southern state of Victoria on Saturday. But the state`s premier, John Brumby, said more than 50 people remained missing Tuesday afternoon.
These are people who the coroner believes are already deceased but are not yet identified, Mr. Brumby said. So this is going to be a significant number, it will exceed 200 deaths.
Officials declared crime scenes across huge tracts of land where dozens of victims died in their cars or huddled in their houses during the worst wildfires in Australian history.
The Victorian state police commissioner, Christine Nixon, told a local radio station on Tuesday that one of the fires, which killed at least 21 people in the eastern region of Gippsland, was deliberately set, and police believe there may be more.
Asked whether police had any suspects, she said, We certainly do in some cases.
Police said it was still unclear whether arsonists were responsible for the deadliest blaze, a 60-mile-long fire front that killed at least 147 people and decimated several hillside towns northeast of Melbourne.
Officials set up a task force to examine how many of the fires were lit by arsonists, who could face murder charges if arrested. Dannye Moloney, who is heading the force, said the team of 100 top investigators would also try to determine the circumstances of each death, but he warned the process could take months.
We have people that left their homes, drove, got trapped, left their vehicles; pedestrians were picked up by other motorists trying to escape this tragedy and were killed in cars, Mr. Moloney said in Melbourne. We must pin all this together.
Stephen Cordner, the head of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, who is helping with the investigation, said the heat of the fires incinerated some victims so thoroughly that identifying their bodies would be impossible.State and federal officials began trying to find shelter for hundreds of people left homeless in the disaster. More than 900 houses were destroyed and some 7,000 people have appealed for assistance from the Australian Red Cross, local media reported.
A special agency has been set up to oversee the reconstruction of several towns and villages razed in Saturday`s fires, and Mr. Brumby said building would begin within weeks.
Officials have come under criticism for failing to notify residents of the danger or evacuate towns facing high fire risk on Saturday. Australian fire authorities rarely order mass evacuations but advise people to establish a fire plan that involves either leaving early or staying to defend their homes with hoses, pumps and generators.
Many of those who survived the most devastating fires said there was no time for an orderly evacuation and witnesses said several people died while sheltering in homes that collapsed in a matter of minutes.
Mr. Brumby has called for a royal commission, the highest level of government inquiry, to review the state`s response to the fires. One question will be whether officials should have greater power to force residents to leave their homes in times of high fire danger.
The premier and fire officials defended the existing approach, saying no one could have predicted the ferocity of Saturday`s fires. However, Victoria`s main fire authority updated its safety warnings to clarify that leaving early means going to safe places on all days when there is a fire risk.
Meanwhile, hundreds of exhausted firefighters continued to battle two dozen wildfires still burning out of control on Tuesday.Army reservists were deployed to the region to help dig containment lines around the fires and clear charred trees from the roads. Conditions were much cooler than the 116 degree temperatures recorded Saturday, but officials warned the weather could heat up again early next week.