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General News of Tuesday, 31 December 2019


Australia fires: Thousands flee to beach to escape

Residents in Mallacoota, Victoria, take shelter on a beach to escape a wall of flames Residents in Mallacoota, Victoria, take shelter on a beach to escape a wall of flames

Thousands of people have fled to a beach in Victoria, Australia, to escape bushfires racing towards the coast.

Locals in Mallacoota described a "terrifying experience" of camping on wharves and boarding boats under blood-red skies.

Military aircraft and vessels are to be sent to help rescue efforts.

Officials confirmed another two people had been killed by fires in New South Wales (NSW), bringing the fire-linked death toll to 12.

Authorities say four people are missing in Victoria and another in NSW.

The beach town where fires turned day to night
The bodies of the latest victims - believed to be a father and son - were found in the NSW town of Corbargo, which was hit by a massive blaze on Tuesday.

"Very tragic set of circumstances," said NSW police deputy commissioner Gary Worboys. "[They were] obviously trying to do their best with the fire as it came through in the early hours of the morning."

In Mallacoota, the local fire service said a change in wind direction had taken the worst of the fires away from the town.

"I understand there was a public cheer down at the jetty when that was announced," said chief officer Steve Warrington.

More than a dozen "emergency-level" blazes span a 500km (310 miles) stretch across two Australian states - from Batemans Bay in New South Wales to Bairnsdale in Victoria.

Several holiday spots along the coast have been cut off and the main road in the region - the Princes Highway - has been closed.

Victoria's state premier, Daniel Andrews, said navy ships might be called upon to provide food, water and power to the cut-off townships.

'We were ready to jump into the water'

In Mallacoota, residents fled to the beach or took up shelter in fortified homes when they heard the warning siren go off at 08:00 local time on Tuesday.

"It should have been daylight but it was black like midnight and we could hear the fire roaring," said David Jeffrey, a local business owner. "We were all terrified for our lives."

"There's a rock wall that they've built to keep back the sea, and that was where we were going to jump into the water if the radiant heat had hit," he added.

The fire swept through the town destroying numerous buildings, but was kept back from the shore by the change in wind.

Firefighters had gathered at the shore as a last line of defence.

Victoria's state emergency commissioner Andrew Crisp told reporters there were "4,000 people on the beach".

Steve Warrington from the fire service said: "It is pitch black, it is quite scary... the community right now is under threat but we will hold our line and they will be saved and protected."

He said there had been "significant property losses" across the entire East Gippsland region in the past days.

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