Australian bushfires push country towards 'humanitarian crisis'

Australia is teetering on the edge of a humanitarian crisis as remote communities remain cut off from medical help, water sources are compromised and food and fuel supplies run low.

Hundreds of fires are still burning out of control across the country, destroying millions of hectares, killing 18 and leaving 1,200 homes destroyed, with catastrophic 46C weather conditions forecast for Saturday.

A Navy ship that delivered emergency supplies to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake has left Sydney and is expected to reach the waters off the fire-stricken town of Mallacoota, Victoria on Thursday.

HMAS Choules will provide relief to 4,000 people who remain stranded in the seaside town after it was devastated by bushfires. 

Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said evacuating people onto the ship is 'an option that we're seriously considering'. The ship could can carry up to 1,000 at a time.

On New Year's Eve residents and tourists fled to Mallacoota's beach, ready to throw themselves in the water to protect themselves from the flames while the sky turned an apocalyptic red. 

There are concerns that the town's water supply has now become contaminated due to the fires, and residents have been told to boil water until it can be tested. 

HMAS Choules (pictured leaving Sydney Harbour on Wednesday) will provide relief to 4,000 people who remain stranded in Mallachoota, Victoria

HMAS Choules (pictured leaving Sydney Harbour on Wednesday) will provide relief to 4,000 people who remain stranded in Mallachoota, Victoria

This picture taken on December 31, 2019 shows a firefighter hosing down trees and flying embers in an effort to secure nearby houses from bushfires near the town of Nowra on the NSW south coast

This picture taken on December 31, 2019 shows a firefighter hosing down trees and flying embers in an effort to secure nearby houses from bushfires near the town of Nowra on the NSW south coast 

Business owner Sally Anne Wilson (left) stands in front of her destroyed shop with her partner Christopher Lee in Cobargo, NSW, Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Business owner Sally Anne Wilson (left) stands in front of her destroyed shop with her partner Christopher Lee in Cobargo, NSW, Wednesday, January 1, 2020

On Wednesday more than 300 residents were seen queuing outside a Woolworths in Ulladulla, NSW, which has experienced power outages

On Wednesday more than 300 residents were seen queuing outside a Woolworths in Ulladulla, NSW, which has experienced power outages

This satellite image shows the devastation of the fires devastating the coastal town of Batemans Bay, on the NSW south coast, early Wednesday morning as the blaze continues to spread

This satellite image shows the devastation of the fires devastating the coastal town of Batemans Bay, on the NSW south coast, early Wednesday morning as the blaze continues to spread

Hundreds of fires are still burning out of control across the country, destroying millions of hectares, killing 18 and leaving 1,200 homes destroyed, with catastrophic 46C weather forecast for Saturday

Hundreds of fires are still burning out of control across the country, destroying millions of hectares, killing 18 and leaving 1,200 homes destroyed, with catastrophic 46C weather forecast for Saturday

Water supplies in towns in both Victoria and New South Wales have been affected by the fires. 

On Tuesday boil notices were issued for Quaama, Cobargo, Bermagui, Point, Fairhaven, Wallaga Lake, Wallaga Lake Heights, Wallaga Lake Koori Village and Akolele after disinfection infrastructure was lost.

Power was restored to 11,000 homes in New South Wales' South Coast on Wednesday but more than 30,000 people are still without electricity or internet.

People who had suffered horrific burns or were injured in the fires were forced to wait for more than 24 hours until they were rescued by the Navy as roads remain closed.

Since Monday, eight have been killed and four are missing feared dead in the fires in NSW and Victoria. 

On Wednesday a 42-year-old man was rescued by a Navy helicopter from Cadgee, south of Moruya, and a 49-year-old woman and 23-year-old woman were rescued from Nowra. 

Although some roads reopened on Wednesday, including the Princes Highway - the main road running through the fire affected region - some will remain closed for weeks.

AUSTRALIA'S BUSHFIRE CRISIS AT A GLANCE

 NEW SOUTH WALES:

- 15 lives lost, four in the past 24 hours

- Two people remain missing

- More than 100 bushfires burning

- 3.6 million hectares burned, greater than the size of Belgium

- 1087 homes confirmed destroyed 

VICTORIA:

- More than 40 bushfires of significance burning 

- One person dead, four more missing 

- More than 500,000 hectares burned

- 68 structures confirmed destroyed but this number is expected to rise significantly

TASMANIA

- More than 30 bushfires burning, seven of significance

- 8000 hectares burned

- One home confirmed destroyed

 SOUTH AUSTRALIA:

- Two lives lost

- About 20 bushfires burning, seven of significance

- More than 60,000 hectares burned

- More than 90 homes confirmed destroyed

QUEENSLAND: 

- 7 bushfires burning

- 250,000 hectares burned

- 45 homes confirmed destroyed

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: 

- More than 40 bushfires burning, two of significance

- 1.2 million hectares burned

- One home confirmed destroyed

 

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that trees had fallen on roads and had become welded to the bitumen making the task of clearing highways even more difficult. 

There are concerns that food supplies will deplete quickly with no way to deliver more food.   

On Wednesday more than 300 residents were seen queuing outside a Woolworths in Ulladulla, which has experienced power outages.

Store manager Craig Scott said the supermarket was running on a recently purchased generator - but it was close to running out of fuel. 

He was hoping local boat owners would share their diesel to ensure essential food and milk wouldn't spoil.

'The power's out in town, but we decided to open the store just for necessities, so people can get nappies, baby food, all that sort of stuff,' he said. 

In the town of Tura Beach there were long queues of people waiting to fill up on petrol and to get supplies at the supermarket.

One woman called Kerry told the ABC: 'A car queue of 50 waiting to get petrol and people in Woolworths clearing the shelves … apocalyptic.' 

Ulladulla Woolworths opened its doors on Wednesday to give locals unable to leave the chance to stock up on supplies

Ulladulla Woolworths opened its doors on Wednesday to give locals unable to leave the chance to stock up on supplies

A firefighter hosing down trees and flying embers in an effort to secure nearby houses in Nowra, NSW, on Tuesday

A firefighter hosing down trees and flying embers in an effort to secure nearby houses in Nowra, NSW, on Tuesday

Vehicles gutted by bushfires are seen in the town of Lake Conjola in New South Wales on January 1, 2020

Vehicles gutted by bushfires are seen in the town of Lake Conjola in New South Wales on January 1, 2020

Local petrol stations have been forced to post signs letting residents know they've been run completely dry of petrol - while others simply don't have any power to operate.

Conditions improved on Wednesday for firefighters but RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons warned of hellish weather this weekend which would be worse than Tuesday, despite roads reopening.

'Unfortunately that also correlates with where we have some of the worst, most damaging ad destructive bushfires in NSW at the moment,' he said.

Very high fire danger is forecast on Thursday for eight fire districts on or west of the Great Diving Range while high fire risk is due for some coastal regions.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said communities needed to brace for the worrying weekend and more fatalities possibly coming to light in coming days.

'Many people who have been here for decades are just completely shocked that the fire reached as far as it did,' she told reporters at Batemans Bay.

NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys asked for patience as police and utility providers tried their best to get power and telecom services restored down the south coast.

'We have to make sure that when we restart the power, we do that with safety and confidence, that it will remain on. People need to understand this is not a simple or easy task.' 

Mr Fitzsimmons said the fires would dominate a vast area from the south eastern corner of NSW up to Illawarra and Shoalhaven. Tourists were warned to get out while they still could.

Eight people have died in bushfires since Monday, seven in New South Wales and one in Victoria.      

SLEEPLESS NIGHT FOR NSW SOUTH COAST EVACUEES 

A Rural Fire Service firefighter conducts mopping up near the town of Sussex Inlet on December 31

A Rural Fire Service firefighter conducts mopping up near the town of Sussex Inlet on December 31

By AUSTRALIAN ASSOCIATED PRESS 

As fires took hold over the NSW south coast on New Year's Eve, evacuees, daytrippers, dogs and a tortoise crammed into a bowling club.

Sussex Inlet man David Warner was among a group of locals who had travelled to Nowra by bus before the Princes Highway was blocked off on Tuesday.

'When we came in, everything was blue, it was all good and then 11 o'clock (there was) all these fires, smoke, sirens everywhere,' Mr Warner told AAP on Wednesday.

'I said, we're not going to get back.'

Unlike those who had evacuated to Bomaderry Bowling Club, Mr Warner had nothing with him.

He said those running the centre were very nice but 'none of us slept at all'.

'It was shocking,' he said.

'I will never forget this New Year's.

'It'll be stuck in my head 'til the day I die.'

Near people and their pets - including dogs, cats and a tortoise - he watched Sydney's famous foreshore fireworks on a giant projection screen hanging at the front of the room as sausage sandwiches were served.

'I forgot it was New Year's actually because of all of what was going on,' Mr Warner said.

Reality hit home on Wednesday as information from Sussex Inlet began filtering through the evacuation centre.

The body of a yet-to-be-identified man was found about midday in a vehicle on Wandra Road.

Sussex Inlet was a community where 'everyone knows everyone', Mr Warner said.

'I'm a bit upset about it because I don't know who it is, and we know a lot of people in Sussex,' he said.

Crews on Wednesday built containment lines around the massive Currowan fire that impacted Sussex Inlet and other towns over a 100km stretch of the coast.

A watch-and-act alert advises communities to monitor conditions, beware of falling trees and seek shelter as the firefront approaches.

Conditions are expected to get worse on Saturday with smoke filling the air. Pictured: Wattle Creek Fire on December 19

Conditions are expected to get worse on Saturday with smoke filling the air. Pictured: Wattle Creek Fire on December 19

Pictured: People lining up to use a public telephone booth after telephone reception was cut across the south coast of NSW

Pictured: People lining up to use a public telephone booth after telephone reception was cut across the south coast of NSW

NSW Police confirmed a total of seven people have been killed and two are unaccounted for in the South Coast bushfires since Monday.

The deaths include dairy farmer Patrick Salway, 29, and his father Robert, 63, who died trying to save their property in Cobargo, near Bega.

Young father and volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul, 28, was also among those confirmed dead after he was killed by a fire tornado.   

A 70-year-old man was found dead outside a home at Yatte Yattah, west of Lake Conjola, on Tuesday night, while another man's body was found in a burnt vehicle on a road off the Princes Highway at Yatte Yattah Wednesday morning.

The body of a man was found in a vehicle on Wandra Road at Sussex Inlet about 11.30am Wednesday but is yet to be formally identified, while a seventh body was found outside a home Coolagolite, about 10km east of Cobargo, on Wednesday.  

 Beloved great-grandfather Mick Roberts, 67, from Buchan, in East Gippsland, as found dead at his home on Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, a 72-year-old man is unaccounted for at Belowra, 50km north-west of Cobargo.

An 81-year-old woman who was missing from Conjola Park was found alive

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