SYDNEY: Reserve troops fanned out across fire-ravaged regions in three Australian states yesterday after a horror weekend, as the government pledged $1.4 billion over two years to help recover from the devastating months-long crisis.
Catastrophic bush fires have turned swathes of land into smouldering, blackened hells capes and destroyed an area about the size of the island of Ireland, according to official figures, with authorities warning the disaster still has weeks or months to run.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose government has been criticised for its slow response to the emergency, pledged Aus$2 billion ($1.4 billion) of taxpayer money for a national recovery fund.
“It’s a long road ahead and we will be with these communities every step of the way as they rebuild,” Morrison said.
Firefighters joined by fresh teams from the US and Canada were taking advantage of rainy and cooler conditions to tackle out-of-control blazes ahead of rising temperatures forecast later this week.
In the biggest-ever call up of reserves, military teams were deployed across eastern Australia to help emergency services assess the damage, restore power and deliver supplies of food, water and fuel to cut-off communities.
For the first time in Australian history the government also deployed its medical assistance team — normally sent to other nations to lend support in the aftermath of their disasters — to help evacuees.
“There is no room for complacency, especially as we have over 130 fires burning across (New South Wales) state still,” Premier of New South Wales state Gladys Berejiklian said yesterday.
Almost 50,000 square kilometres have been razed across New South Wales and more than 1.2 million hectares in Victoria since late September, officials said.
That took the total amount of land burnt close to eight million hectares — around the size of the island of Ireland or South Carolina.
Twenty-four people have lost their lives so far, with over 1,800 homes damaged.
Two people are missing in New South Wales, the nation’s most populous state.
The impact of the bush fires has spread beyond affected communities, with heavy smoke engulfing the country’s second-largest city Melbourne and the national capital Canberra.
Some government departments were shut in Canberra as the city’s air quality was once again ranked the world’s poorest, according to independent online
air-quality index monitor Air Visual.
The disaster has sparked growing public anger with Morrison. Rallies are planned on Friday to call on his government to step up efforts to tackle climate change, which experts say have helped fuel the fires. – AFP