Death toll from blazes -130
Monday, February 09, 2009 » 03:54pm
The death toll from the Victorian bushfires has reached 130 and authorities warn the toll is likely to rise further.
The death toll from Victoria's bushfires could top 200 as authorities sift through the piles of ash that were once entire communities.
The official toll rose to 130 on Monday.
More than 70 of those people died in the Kinglake fire, which has burnt through 220,000 hectares of the central highlands.
Senior fire and parks officials have told staff they fear there may be more than 200 deaths when the heartbreaking task of cleaning up is complete.
The fires are already Australia's worst natural disaster by far: worse than Ash Wednesday, Black Friday, Cyclone Tracy and even the Bali bombings.
Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers are struggling to cope emotionally.
There are so many bodies. Many don't even look like bodies and will require the attentions of specialised police Disaster Victim Identification (DVI)
DVI coordinator Inspector Greg Hough said the identification process would take a long time as fatalities had occurred across the state.
He called on families to do what they could to help identify loved ones but conceded that in many cases 'it will be done forensically'.
More than 750 houses have been destroyed and 330,000 hectares have been burnt.
There are 31 fires still raging throughout Victoria after record heat and wild winds set the state ablaze on Saturday.
The biggest current threat is in Beechworth, in the state's north, where a blaze is burning out of control, while the Churchill fires in Gippsland
are also threatening homes.
The Beechworth blaze has burnt 30,000 hectares and continues to threaten the communities of Stanley, Bruarong, Dederang, Gundowring, Gundowring Upper,
Kancoona, Kancoona South, Coral Bank,
Glenn Creek and Running Creek.
The fire has skirted Beechworth and is heading towards Yackandandah.
'There are seven or eight small settlements in the path of this fire and those residents have been urged to get their fire plans under way,'
Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) spokesman Geoff Russell said.
All fire-devastated areas will be treated as crime scenes to determine if arson was involved, Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon said.
Emergency relief operations are underway throughout the state including a massive exercise at Whittlesea, which is serving survivors from Kinglake and
At least 20 people have been killed in Kinglake and nine in Kinglake West with dozens more fatalities in nearby communities, while at least 550 homes
have been razed.
As refugees flooded down the mountain from Kinglake and surrounding townships into Whittlesea, relief workers headed the other way, taking desperately
needed food, water and fuel supplies to those who have remained behind.
The death toll surpasses that from the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires, in which 75 people died in Victoria and South Australia, and the Black Friday
bushfires of 1939, which killed 71