Coroner identifies 66 of 210 bushfire dead

Coroner identifies 66 of 210 bushfire dead

21 March 2009

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Australia —

The State Coroner has identified 66 victims of Victoria’s deadly bushfires.

The figure was announced on the day Marysville residents returned to their homes, and police declared they had finished their search for human remains in bushfire-affected areas. In a separate development, the Red Cross said yesterday it would close its bushfire appeal on April 17, after raising more than $250 million so far and anticipating a higher final figure.

Yesterday the coroner, Judge Jennifer Coates, said families of the 66 had been told about the identification. She said remains were being returned to the families, and ongoing support provided.

Assistant Commissioner Kieran Walshe said police were “comfortable’ that all human remains from the bushfires had been located and recovered. “We will be in a position at some point a little bit further on to make a statement (about) the final death toll,” he said.

The toll stands at 210, including 45 from Marysville, which was opened yesterday to residents six weeks after the February 7 blaze that devastated the town. Mr Walshe said investigations about the cause of the blaze were continuing.

He said surveyors from Murrindindi Shire Council were assessing the safety of buildings and roads, and the public would be kept out of the town, possibly until next week.

A public meeting today would inform Marysville residents about protecting themselves while back at their properties.

Shire council chief executive officer Mark Henderson yesterday raised the prospect of a longer exclusion for the public. He said residents had asked for two weekends of privacy, and said surveyors had a busy schedule.

Red Cross chief Robert Tickner said bushfire fund-raisers would have until June 30 to send in money collected or register their intent to transfer funds after that date. Those planning fund-raising activities after April 17 should call the Red Cross on 1800 811 700 before proceeding.

Yesterday, Marysville property owner Madeleine Love, who has campaigned for residents to return to the town, said it was amazing and phenomenal to be back.

She said there was little left of the 1950s house that she and her family had loved.

Asked if she would rebuild, she replied: “Oh, definitely … I belong here. I don’t know when I will ever break that bond.”

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