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09 February 2009 @ 09:21 am
This is purely horrific :'(  
This is mainly a post for my international LJ readers, given everyone in Australia knows all about this at the moment. Also, my previous entry is a very famous poem published in 1908 by Dorothea Mackellar (well, most people in Australia know the second stanza by heart) - which cannot be any more appropriate than right now, given we have massive floods in North Queensland (60% of the state is in flood*), droughts across the bottom half of the nation and now bushfires killing over one hundred people in Victoria.

108 people dead, 750 homes destroyed in worst bushfires in Australia's history

By staff writers
February 09, 2009 08:22am

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd said arsonists in Victoria had committed mass murder as the death toll in Australia's worst ever bushfires rose to 108 this morning.

The final toll was expected to rise further and fires were still burning out of control and putting towns at risk.

Amid speculation some of the fires were deliberately lit - and with reports yesterday that people were returning to relight blazes after fire crews had left an area - Mr Rudd said: "There are no words to describe it other than mass murder."

At least 750 homes have been destroyed and 3733 people have registered with the Red Cross after evacuating their properties. The number left homeless is expected to be far higher, the Red Cross said.

It was confirmed that at least four children have died, but that figure would also be expected to rise as full details emerged.

A two-year-old girl was among 13 in intensive care in hospital. Twenty-two people with shocking burns were admitted to the Alfred hospital, the state's main trauma centre, where staff ran out of morphine trying to ease patients' pain.

Most of the damage was done by two massive fires - one that virtually wiped out towns northeast of Melbourne including Kinglake and Marysville with a 100km front - and a second inferno that raced across Gippsland.

TV veteran Brian Naylor and his wife Moiree were among the dead. The pair died when the fire at Kinglake swept through their property.

Horrific deaths

Six victims were in one car trying to outrun the inferno which swept through Kinglake in minutes. A resident said the town was littered with burnt-out cars and he believed many contained bodies.

"It's going to look like Hiroshima, I tell you, it's going to look like a nuclear bomb," he told Melbourne's Herald Sun.

His daughter told of another resident who "went to put his kids in the car, put them in, turned around to go grab something from the house, then his car was on fire with his kids in it, and they burnt".

Weather conditions have eased since Saturday's firestorm, but firefighters were still battling 31 active blazes across the state as of 5.30am (AEDT), authorities said. The communities of Stanley, Bruarong, Dederang, Gundowring, Gundowring Upper, Kancoona, Kancoona South, Coral Bank, Glenn Creek and Running Creek remained under threat, they said.

Residents of Taggerty, Acheron, Snobs Creek and Eildon were also on alert. Some fires would take weeks to contain, authorities said, and it could also take weeks to formally identify some of those killed.

Other teams were working to clear debris from towns gutted over the weekend to allow those lucky enough to escape a chance to return to their properties.

Among the survivors, families sat in dazed disbelief, surrounded by mattresses, dogs and whatever meagre possessions they managed to gather as they fled the fires.

Some talked of friends who had lost children, brothers and sisters, kids who have lost best friends and of a woman who has not seen her husband since Saturday. They said they had no warning before daylight turned to night and their communities were enveloped in a wall of fire and smoke.

"We looked over and there was a wall of flames looking at us and everything went pitch black. There was no warning," Joanne Fisher of Kinglake said. "I've never seen anything like it in my life ... You see this on TV, it doesn't happen to you."

Arson rumours

It was believed the fire in Bendigo was caused by a cigarette, but Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon said she was sickened by the fact some other fires might have been deliberately lit.

"It makes me very angry ... we all knew we faced the most enormous risks in our community.

"To then have someone who may have lit these fires. Fires are so devastating. The injuries we are seeing. We are talking about a massive death toll."

A survivor told news.com.au that arsonists should hope the police caught them first. "Watch your back, that's all I want to say to them. Watch your back, 24/7."

Teams of disaster victim identification experts were flying in from all over Australia. Extra fire crews were being sent from interstate.

Mr Kevin Rudd offered army troops to help firefighters control the fires. He and state Premier John Brumby also opened up $10 million in emergency funding yesterday.

"This is of a level of horror that few of us anticipated," he said this morning.

- With the Herald Sun and wires


Flood damage in Ingham 'horrendous'

Posted Wed Feb 4, 2009 8:19am AEDT
Updated Wed Feb 4, 2009 9:59am AEDT

The mayor of Hinchinbrook Shire Council in north Queensland says flood damage to Ingham, north of Townsville, is 'horrendous'.

Emergency authorities in north Queensland estimate almost 3,000 properties have been affected by floodwaters in Ingham.

Hinchinbrook Shire Council Mayor Pino Giandominico says it could be as late as next week before the damage in Ingham can be assessed.

"It will be horrendous - the amount of damage that's happened this year because the longer the water stays up, the more damage occurs," he said.

"The amount of houses that have got damage, the amount of people that have lost property - it's just mind boggling."

Authorities believe the worst of the flooding is over in Ingham although heavy rain continues to fall in the area.

Thirty-two people have now had to evacuate their homes in Ingham.

The weather bureau is watching a low pressure system forming off Innisfail.

The Ingham area received another 330 millimetres of rain overnight and around Townsville there has been more than 100 millimetres.

Emergency authorities say it could be days before the floodwaters around Ingham recede.

The Herbert River is holding at more than 14 metres - a major flood level.

Disaster zone

Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts says more than a million square kilometres - or 62 per cent of the state - has been declared a disaster zone.

The Mackay, Whitsunday and Issac councils have also been declared eligible for disaster relief funding following the severe weather that has lashed the region.

The announcement brings the number of Queensland shires included on the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangement list to 35.

South of Townsville, the town of Giru is still isolated as floodwaters pour down the Haughton river but there are no reports of major damage.

Mr Roberts says individuals who have suffered personal hardship because of the weather can contact the Department of Communities for advice on what benefits they can receive.

He says the initial damage estimate of flooding caused by cyclone Charlotte last month and cyclone Ellie this week is now more than $109 million.

"But we won't really know the full extent of the damage until the water subsides, so that figure could double, it could treble," he said.

"We really need to wait until we get those full assessments form the local authorities when the water clears."

The army has been called in to help with the clean-up effort, with soldiers based in Townsville to work alongside the State Emergency Service (SES) and provide relief for tired workers.

Recovery centre

A community recovery centre will be set up in the isolated town of Ingham this morning, so residents can get information on flood relief payments and support services.

Mr Roberts will tour Ingham today.

"We're going to have both Defence Force personnel, police and Emergency Management Queensland teams in the area just making sure that people are okay, but also just assessing what work needs to be done in terms of bringing in Defence Force personnel and other SES support if required," he said.

He says the recovery centre will be a one-stop shop for residents looking for help.

"People are eligible if they've been impacted by these events for direct personal hardship grants of up to $165 per person or $765 per family," Mr Roberts said.

"There is also other means-tested allowances available for damage to property and indeed homes."

Weather bureau spokesman Vikash Prasad says most of the heavy rain has moved offshore, but says the north should prepare for more bad weather as another low develops off the coast.

"The chances are that this low may continue to develop during today," he said.

"Now whether that becomes a tropical cyclone by tomorrow that remains to be seen.

"The conditions - as far as meteorological conditions are concerned - [are] quite favourable for the system to once again develop into a tropical cyclone."

Electricity risk

Authorities in north Queensland are warning residents of a risk from electricity lines in part of the flooded region.

A fault has been discovered at a substation at Lannercost, north of Ingham, which supplies 600 properties.

Ergon Energy spokesman John Fowler says they have been unable to reach the substation by boat and the power could fail tonight.

He says there may also be a danger with live power lines in the area.

"Our concern certainly at the Lannercost substation and in that general area is that if a powerline does come down it may be live, but certainly treat them as live anyway and stay away and call the police," he said.

Gulf country

In Queensland's Gulf country, some residents in Normanton and Karumba remain on standby to evacuate their homes as floodwaters continue to rise.

Mr Roberts visited Normanton and Karumba yesterday for a first-hand look at the flood situation there.

Heavy rain across the north-west region has isolated towns and cut roads.

Mr Roberts says resupply and evacuations are the main issues, with the Norman River expected to peak at Normanton today.

"I think this is about the worst they've had for 30 years or so, very severe impact," he said.

"The wet season seems to be a little bit wetter than it has in recent years, so again we understand the difficulties.

"It's a lot of pressures on the individuals, organisations and communities and we're doing whatever we can to provide whatever support that we can to get them through this time."

Acting Carpentaria Mayor Joyce Zahner says five isolated properties in the shire have already been evacuated.

She says the Norman River is expected to peak later today.

"Normanton is actually an island in a sea of water at the moment from the air," he said.

"There are eight properties on standby in case the waters do exceed the 6.8 metre mark.

"Everything has been put in place to cope with anything should anything happen.

"We have sandbagged all the sewerage areas.'

Authorities in Karumba are worried that high tides in the coming days could worsen the flooding.

Sergeant Gary Sweeney says low-lying parts of the town may be inundated and emergency workers are closely monitoring the situation.

"We've also got the issue that from Wednesday through to the following Monday is our critical period where we have rising tide levels at sea which don't aid in that floodwater getting away out into the ocean - it backs up, so that's an issue we're also dealing with," he said.


Psychologists fear depression and anxiety rates will rise in north Queensland as a result of the prolonged wet weather in the region.

North Queensland has had more rain than sunshine since the start of the new year.

Dr Joseph Reser from Griffith University is an expert in the psychology of people in natural disasters.

He says heavy rain and flooding often impacts on their emotional well-being.

"Floods can be particularly tragic in a sense that sometimes people in one street are flooded in a community, people in another street aren't at all and there seems an unfairness about that," he said.

"If there's been a bad run of weather for a number of weeks or a number of months it does get on top of most people."

But Dr Alison Cottrell from the Centre for Disaster Studies says there can be a 'silver lining'.

"There's a whole bunch of relationships that we have in communities which become much more evident when there's a disaster on or an event like this on," she said.

Dr Cottrell says some people can feel overwhelmed.

"They should speak to someone about it, because I think not speaking does make it much more difficult," she said.


* - for the record, 60% of Queensland is slightly more than 1,000,000 square kilometres, or slightly more than 400,000 square miles.
To put this into perspective, it is a larger land area than the bottom seven states along the Mississippi River put together. Yes, if you add the land areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky and Illinois (and not just along the River - the ENTIRE land area of the entirety of each of those states) it is still less than the amount of Queensland that is currently flooded.
For Europeans - it is almost exactly equivalent to the land area of France and Germany combined.
That's a shit load of floodwater!!

And to re-itterate Dorothea Mackellar's poem:
The famous second stanza:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me!

and at the moment, it's the fifth stanza that really sinks in:

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold -

Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze.

Gotta love this country we live in. So cruel, but so remarkable.

edit: And occasionally i feel the need to read international news sources, just to see what the rest of the world is being told and their reaction to international tragedies. It's kinda nice to know that the following are the most read news articles on the CNN and BBC websites respectively:

Scores killed in Australia's 'worst fires'

Australian fire toll passes 100

It's also one of the top stories on CBS:

Scores dead in Australia Firestorm

And they're also top news stories in Switzerland, France and Germany:

Australie: deux personnes inculpées d'incendie volontaire

Le sud-est du pays en proie aux flammes, plus d'une centaine de morts

Feuertragödie im Südosten Australiens
(Deleted comment)
Tweed Boytweed_boy on February 10th, 2009 02:35 am (UTC)
yeah, we have fires every summer - but NEVER of this scale. This not only exceeds the worst fires of 1939 and 1983, but exceeds them by a long, long, long way.