Australian police: Dozens still missing from fires

Australian police: Dozens still missing from fires

25 February 2009

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Australia — Australian police said Wednesday it could take another two weeks to conclude the search for dozens still suspected missing after the devastating wildfires that swept Victoria state earlier this month, killing 210 people.

Officials cautioned that those believed missing are not necessarily dead, saying some could have been listed multiple times or might not have been in the path of the blazes. Others said last week that the death toll from the Feb. 7 fires could rise slightly, but have not commented on it recently.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe said the exact number of missing was not known, but Police Superintendent Rod Collins said the number was “in the 20s to 30s range.”

Walshe said police were comparing the lists with 17,000 registered as safe. They have received 21,000 inquiries about missing people.

“Given the number of people listed, it is taking police some time to establish who remains unaccounted for,” Walshe said. “We anticipate that the searches could take up to two weeks to conclude.”

Walshe called the search “an incredibly complex and unprecedented task” and asked families still missing a loved one to file reports with the police.

He said that while they hold “grave concerns” for the missing, it may be that they have not registered with the Red Cross. More than 6,500 people originally listed as missing have since been found after registering.

He also reiterated a restricted access order for six of the worst fire-affected areas, where police are renewing searches for human remains. The orders prevent residents from starting any cleanup on their destroyed homes until police and the coroner are satisfied that the area has been searched thoroughly.

Meanwhile, authorities warned Victorians that Friday could bring bad fire conditions when temperatures are expected to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius), with winds of up to 25 miles (40 kilometers) per hour.

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