Fires in Australia: Entire cities evacuated before a new heat peak
Australia on Thursday ordered the evacuation of tourists and residents from the country’s southeast coastline in anticipation of a new heat peak expected on Saturday, favorable to the progression of deadly fires.
D ‘re out of control fires ravaged the southeast of the country on the eve of New Year, killing at least eight people.
Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of New South Wales, declared a seven-day state of emergency on Thursday that allows forced evacuations starting Friday.
Since the start of the fire season in September, this is the third time that a state of emergency has been declared in this most populous state in Australia.
“We don’t take these kinds of decisions lightly, but we want to make sure that all the necessary steps are taken to prepare for what could be a horrible Saturday,” she added.
The announcement comes after firefighters in New South Wales asked tourists to leave a 300-kilometer stretch of coastline from the town of Nowra (160 km south of Sydney) to the coast. ‘State of Victoria.
Residents and vacationers in two inland areas, notably the touristy Snowy Mountains, between Canberra and Sydney, were urged to leave.
Leave before Saturday
People must leave before Saturday, a dark day on the fire front with sustained gusts of wind and expected temperatures above 40 ° C.
This day could be worse than Tuesday, the deadliest since the start of the crisis.
At least 18 people have died since the start of the fire season in September.
This human toll could further increase, the authorities of the State of Victoria having said Thursday that 17 people are missing on its territory.
Many tourists spent two isolated nights in areas deprived of electricity and communications, with scarce food supplies.
The evacuation will be “the largest ever in the region,” New South Wales Transport Minister Andrew Constance said on ABC.
Long lines of cars spanned miles of roads to Sydney and Canberra on Thursday. A driver told AFP that it took more than 3 hours to travel just 50 kilometers.
State fire department assistant director Rob Rogers added that firefighters were unable to extinguish or even control the fires in progress.
“There are so many fires in this area that we are unable to contain” the disaster, he told ABC. “We just have to make sure there is no one left on their way.”
John Steele, 73, who lives near Merimbula on the south coast, told AFP that some people were “panicking” because of the calls to evacuate.
More than 400 homes have been destroyed in the past few days, a number that is expected to increase as firefighters reach the most remote hamlets.
A “supposed” climate policy
Military ships and planes have been deployed, along with emergency personnel, to deliver humanitarian aid and assess the damage in the most remote areas.
Two ships arrived Thursday morning in the seaside town of Mallacoota, where people took refuge on the beach on Tuesday to escape the flames that reached the city.
Up to 4000 people are expected to be evacuated at first. These operations could last several weeks, according to officials.
Commander Doug Laidlaw, of the Victoria State Firefighting Force, said the first people are expected to arrive on the ships Friday morning. Children, the sick and the elderly have priority.
Since the start of the fire season, more than 1,300 houses have been burned to the ground and 5.5 million hectares have gone up in smoke, an area larger than a country like Denmark or the Netherlands.
This unprecedented crisis has sparked demonstrations calling on the government to take immediate action against global warming, which scientists say is behind the fires that are earlier, longer and more violent than ever.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has renewed his support for the lucrative but highly polluting Australian coal industry, is widely criticized.
On Thursday, he gave his first press conference since the resurgence of fires and defended his policy on climate change, which he described as “sensible”.