Related News

Home » World

84 die as firestorm consumes towns

TOWERING flames razed entire towns in southeastern Australia and burned fleeing residents in their cars as the death toll rose to 84 last night, making it the country's deadliest fire disaster.

At least 700 homes were destroyed in Saturday's inferno when searing temperatures and wind blasts produced a firestorm that swept across a swath of the country's Victoria state, where all the deaths occurred.

"Hell in all its fury has visited the good people of Victoria," Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told reporters as he toured the fire zone yesterday. "It's an appalling tragedy for the nation."

Thousands of exhausted volunteer firefighters were still battling about 30 uncontrolled fires last night in Victoria, officials said, though conditions had eased considerably. It would be days before they were brought under control, even if temperatures stayed down, they said.

Government officials said the army would be deployed to help out, and Rudd announced an immediate emergency aid fund of A$10 million (US$7 million).

The tragedy echoed across Australia. Leaders in other states - most of which have been struck by their own fire disasters in the past - pledged to send money and volunteer firefighters.

Funds for public donations opened yesterday quickly started swelling.

Witnesses described seeing trees exploding and skies raining ash on Saturday as temperatures of up to 47 degrees Celsius combined with blasting winds to create furnace-like conditions.

The scene was utter devastation in at least two regions - the town of Marysville and several hamlets in the Kinglake district, both about 100 kilometers north of the state capital Melbourne.

In Kinglake, just five houses out of about 40 remained standing.

Street after street was lined by smoldering wrecks of homes; roofs collapsed inward, iron roof sheets twisted from the heat. The burned-out hulks of cars dotted roads. Here and there, fire crews filled their trucks from ponds and sprayed down spot fires.

Even from the air, the landscape was blackened as far as the eye could see. Entire forests were reduced to leafless, charred trunks, farmland to ashes. The Victoria Country Fire Service said some 2,200 square kilometers were burned out.

"This is our house here - totally gone," said Wayne Bannister, standing with his wife Anita amid a tangle of blackened timber and bricks in Kinglake. Another man described battling the flames with a garden hose until he heard first his car gas tank, then a house propane tank, explode. He and his wife fled through a window.

"It rained fire," he said. "We hid in our olive grove for an hour and watched our house burn."

Witnesses said about 90 percent of the buildings in Marysville, a town of about 800 people 35 kilometers west of Kinglake, had been ruined. Charred bodies had been found in cars in at least two places suggesting people were engulfed as they fled.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe said police suspected some fires had been set deliberately.

Temperatures in the area dropped to about 25 degrees Celsius yesterday, but along with cooler conditions came wind changes that officials said could push fires in unpredictable directions.

Australia's previous worst fires were in 1983, when blazes killed 75 people and destroyed more than 3,000 homes.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend