Tens of thousands of holiday makers fled seaside towns on Australia’s east coast on Thursday ahead of advancing bushfires, as military ships and helicopters began rescuing thousands more trapped by the blazes.
Fueled by searing temperatures and high winds, more than 200 fires are burning across the southeastern states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, threatening several towns.
Long queues formed outside supermarkets and petrol stations as residents and tourists sought supplies to either bunker down or escape the fires, emptying shelves of staples like bread and milk.
More than 50,000 people were without power and some towns had no access to drinking water.
Authorities urged a mass exodus from several towns on Australia’s southeast coast, an area hugely popular in the current summer peak holiday season, warning that extreme heat forecast for the weekend will further stoke the fires.
“The priority today is fighting fires and evacuating, getting people to safety,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney. “There are parts of both Victoria and New South Wales which have been completely devastated, with a loss of power and communications.”
— Eight people have been killed by wildfires in the eastern states of (NSW) and Victoria since Monday, and 18 are still missing, officials said on Thursday.
— A naval ship arrived on Thursday at the southeastern coastal town of Mallacoota, where 4,000 residents and visitors have been stranded on the beach since Monday night.
— Naval officials said they would open registration for evacuation on Thursday afternoon, with the HMAS Choules able to carry up to 1,000 people on the first trip. The ship is expected to make two or three voyages over coming days, state authorities said.
— “It’s 16-17 hours to the closest boat port, then we’ve got to come back,” HMAS Choules Commander Scott Houlihan said at an information session on Thursday afternoon. He said that leaving by boat was the only way out of the town.