Thousands of holidayers in fire ravaged beach communities of south-eastern Australia have been given until tonight to evacuate, or face the inferno.
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“Tens of thousands flee en masse” … “thousands set to evacuate in multiple states”, read Australian media headlines Friday afternoon of the situation along the coast of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
This as the country braces for a weekend heatwave, with forecasts of up to 45C (113F) for Saturday, and possibly the deadliest day in the fire crisis so far.
On Thursday, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) declared a 200 km “tourist leave zone” stretching from the popular holiday spot of Bateman’s Bay along the coast to neighbouring Victoria.
Small coastal towns such as Narooma have been warned during community briefings, tomorrow will be “an horrific day”.
One of the most disturbing images for the New Year was that of thousands of people fleeing to safety on Mallacoota beach in Victoria–forced into the waters in life jackets as the sky burnt furnace red, stained with black cloud.
Now people are being flown and shipped out of this area in the thousands, as a State of Emergency is declared in NSW, a State of Disaster in Victoria, and the Australian capital, Canberra, on high alert.
With at least 28 missing in the Victorian fire zones, and some 16 confirmed dead in NSW, the situation seems to be worsening in the current climate conditions.
Thousands of people along the entire south coast of New South Wales from Nowra down are being urged to leave immediately.
At a press conference in Sydney on Friday afternoon, deputy commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS), Rob Rogers said people must leave by nightfall, not wait until Saturday morning.
… “be out of those areas tonight … go somewhere that isn’t in one of those areas, go to an area that has been burnt out already, towards the beach areas, make sure that you are not in that area when those winds come in tomorrow morning, and the temperature start elevating.
“These fires can move frighteningly quickly, and unfortunately we had homes being alight at 3.30am, and we had people ringing 000 saying they were trapped already, in the early morning, and that is not the way people want to be woken up so we need people to be safe.”
NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, told the press there was still a window of opportunity for people to leave the south coast via the Princes Highway. Thousands reportedly flocked to the highway and slept on the roadsides on Thursday night, after being advised of two escape routes being opened along the coast: The Princes Highway north to Sydney and the Monaro Highway, south through Canberra and Cooma.
In neighbouring Victoria, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp told a press conference Friday afternoon that four “evacuate now” messages have been given to towns in the line of fire of the raging East Gippsland blazes, both inland and on the coast.
The “red hell” scenario of New Years Eve is ongoing, even escalating, in Australia’s southeastern states. Millions of animals have also perished in the blaze, and the toll for them too, as for people and property, is feared to rise.
One holidaymaker caught up in the New Year beach inferno, described the situation as an apocalypse. That word is now ringing like a mantra all along the coast, as an Australian Armageddon rings in the New Year.