Victoria bushfire death toll rises to 181, 80 missing

February 11th, 2009 - 1:40 pm ICT by ANI  

Melbourne, Feb.11 (ANI): The death toll from the bushfires raging across southern Australia, and particularly in the state of Victoria, has risen to 181.
According to reports filed by both The Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph, at least 80 people are still missing. There are reports that the death toll could reach as high as 300.
Those missing were “people who the coroner believes are already deceased, but are not yet identified,” Victorian Premier John Brumby said.
Marysville is being identified as a potential “Ground Zero”, with authorities fearing up to 100 of its population of 519 has died. The force of the fires has been likened to that of 500 atomic bombs.
“We had people banging on the sides of our tanker begging us to go back to houses where they knew there were people trapped, but we couldn”t because if we had, we”d all be dead too,” a firefighter told The Australian about the moment the firestorm hit.
Some residents are being allowed back to survey the devastation of the fires, but many are still banned from returning.
Whole towns are being treated as crime scenes as police hunt arsonists believed responsible for at least some of the destruction.
Police said they could release a photograph an arsonist suspected of setting a blaze in Gippsland. More than 20 people have died in that region.
Some survivors have reported battles with red tape to access desperately needed aid.
Gary Hughes, a writer for The Australian, said Centrelink had denied him help unless he could produce identification.
“Losing everything means just that - everything,” he wrote in an open letter to the Prime Minister.
“There are many like us who didn”t have time to calmly pause to collect wallets and purses as we fled our homes with wet towels over our faces to avoid choking to death on toxic smoke and flaming embers,” he added.
Cool, relatively calm conditions overnight allowed firefighters to try to bolster control lines around bushfires ahead of predicted warm, windy hot weather later in the week. Dozens of towns are on alert for ember attack, with 23 blazes still out of control.
Southerly winds this morning were fanning the blaze in the Yea-Murrindindi area in the state’’s northeast, with warning in place for Acheron, Cathedral Lane, Rubicon, Thornton and Taggerty Road and Bulls Lane.
Threats have eased to towns near the nearby Beechworth fire, around Healesville on Melbourne’’s outer eastern fringe, and from the Bunyip Ridge and Churchill-Jeeralang fires in Gippsland.
But winds forecast for Saturday could push the Bunyip fire towards a major gas plant and reservoir which supplies Melbourne with water.
The Red Cross said this morning its bushfire appeal had raised 31 million dollars so far, not including corporate and government donations. About six million dollars was raised at last night’’s Australia-New Zealand cricket match in Adelaide.
It was reported that Kylie Minogue, Dannii Minogue and Natalie Imbruglia could team up for a benefit concert in London for bushfire victims. It was also reported that the Queen was planning a private donation.
Prime Minister Rudd pledged an extra five million dollars and promised unlimited money to rebuild communities “brick by brick”.
Awful tales of loss continue to surface more than three days after the blazes, but there are also uplifting accounts of survival. (ANI)

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