Eighteen people have lost their lives throughout the current bush fire season in Australia. Eight of the victims died in the country’s southeast on New Year’s Eve, while 17 people remain unaccounted-for in Victoria State.
Now Australian navy ships are anchored offshore as air force vehicles brave the acrid smoke to evacuate the sick and elderly, as plans to evacuate thousands of stranded residents from fire-ravaged communities in Victoria are underway.
“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 104 degrees Fahrenheit in parts. These conditions have prompted the urgent need to evacuate the roughly 3,000 tourists and 1,000 locals stuck in Mallacoota, Victoria.
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.
“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.
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.