Australian air force, navy preparing for ‘largest ever evacuation' of people from fire-ravaged Victoria (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)
Plans to evacuate thousands of stranded residents from fire-ravaged communities in Victoria are underway; Australian navy ships are anchored offshore as air force vehicles brave the acrid smoke to evacuate the sick and elderly.
At least 18 people have died throughout the current bushfire season in Australia. Eight of the victims perished in the country’s southeast on New Year's Eve, while 17 people remain unaccounted-for in Victoria State.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has declared a seven-day state of emergency and the fire service have created a roughly 200km-long “tourist leave zone.”
“We don’t take these decisions lightly but we also want to make sure we’re taking every single precaution to be prepared for what could be a horrible day on Saturday,” Berejiklian said.
Another heatwave is expected to hit the beleaguered country at the weekend, with gusting winds and temperatures expected to hit 40 degrees Celsius in parts. These conditions have prompted the urgent need to evacuate the roughly 3,000 tourists and 1,000 locals stuck in Mallacoota, Victoria.
Packed town hall meeting in Mallacoota. Residents told to prepare for evacuation on HMAS Choules. Not compulsory. Families sobbed and hugged as they try and decide what to do @theheraldsun pic.twitter.com/joYEzm39QU— David Hurley (@davidhurleyHS) January 2, 2020
The 1,000-person capacity ship HMAS Choules is anchored about 1.5 kilometres off Mallacoota Thursday morning and will set sail for an undisclosed Victorian port on Friday morning with an estimated 800 evacuees on board.
HMAS Choules & MV Sycamore arrived off Vic coast this morning to heavy bushfire smoke & very low visibility. The ships met with community leaders and state emergency authorities and will begin evacuating people from Mallacoota early Fri morning. #AustralianNavy#OurCommunitypic.twitter.com/MjVJ9QzXel— Chief of Navy Australia (@CN_Australia) January 2, 2020
HMAS Choules and MV Sycamore have sailed from Sydney, on their way to provide support to bushfire relief efforts on NSW South Coast and NE Victoria. Navy also continues to provide helicopters and support to @NSWRFS aerial operations.#AustralianNavy#AustraliaFires#OurCommunitypic.twitter.com/PHWp8L0Tvy— Chief of Navy Australia (@CN_Australia) January 1, 2020
“We’re looking to put 1,000 on the ship. If the number is less than 1,000 then clearly everyone is going to go in that first boat,” HMAS Choules' Commander Scott Houlihan said.
“If the number is greater than 1,000, then it’s going to be a second load. It’s 16-17 hours to the closest boat port, then we’ve got to come back.”
The multi-role aviation training vessel MV Sycamore will also assist in the relief operation, in what New South Wales’ Transport Minister Andrew Constance called the “largest evacuation of people out of the region ever.”
Weather permitting, evacuations will also be carried out by air if and when the thick, acrid smoke clears; children, the sick and elderly will be given priority.
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These photos were all taken by citizens in the small East Gippsland town of Mallacoota on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. In the first image, locals and tourists hold tight on the wharf as a bushfire passes through the popular seaside summer holiday spot. Other photos capture the red and orange skies, the damaged homes and an 11-year-old on a boat trying to keep clear of the fire. • 📷 Siobhan Heanue, BrendanH_AU/Twitter, George Mill, Jason Selmes, Claire George, supplied. 🔗 Get the latest news on the bushfires via the link in our bio. It’s free for all readers. • #vicfires #MelbourneWeather #Gippsland #EastGippsland #Mallacoota #bushfires #wildfire #wildfires
This season’s bushfires have scorched over 5.5 million hectares (13.5 million acres) across the country, greater than the land mass of Denmark or the Netherlands, and the impending heatwave looks set to exacerbate an already dire situation.
“The message is we’ve got so much fire in that area, we have no capacity to contain these fires,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said.
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