Southern Australia braces for more bushfires

Most of the nearly 100 people feared missing in bushfires that struck Tasmania have been accounted for.

    Southern Australian states are bracing for more bushfires as a record-breaking heatwave continues, Al Jazeera's Andrew Thomas reports from the island state of Tasmania.

    Julia Gillard, prime minister, has urged people in New South Wales on Monday to be vigilant as the state prepares for one of the worst bushfire conditions in years. 

    As this developed, Al Jazeera is also reporting that most of the nearly 100 people feared missing following the bushfires are now accounted for.

    Earlier Gillard visited fire-ravaged communities in Tasmania and promised emergency aid for survivors.  

    "For many, they are still worried about family and friends and still seeking to be reassured that their family and friends are okay, it's a very anxious time," Gillard said.

    Meanwhile police and defence forces continue to search for people who remain unaccounted for, Scott Tilyard, Tasmania's acting police commissioner, said.

    "We have to brace ourselves for the fact we may locate one or more deceased people," he added. 

    The Tasmania Fire Service (TFS) downgraded two major blazes from emergency to watch-and-act status, with calmer conditions bringing a much-needed reprieve for crews ahead of worsening fire weather expected later in the week.

    The fires have cut off communities and hampered efforts to search devastated areas.

    Australian Bureau of Meteorology said a record heatwave, which began in Western Australia on December 27 and lasted eight days, was the fiercest in more than 80 years in that state and has spread east across the nation, making it the widest-ranging heatwave in more than a decade.

    'Uncontrolled fire'

    Mike Brown, head of the TFS, estimated that there were "hundreds of kilometres of uncontrolled fire" still burning in heavily forested areas that are difficult to access.

    "We have got a lot of work ahead," said Brown. "We are going to be in this situation for a number of days yet."

    Police and troops are searching in the worst-hit town of Dunalley, where 70 homes were destroyed.

    Prime Minister Julia Gillard is to visit Dunalley on Monday.

    Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Australia's head of state, sent her condolences to Tasmania in a written message.

    "I offer my support and admiration for the firefighters, volunteers and emergency services officers who have been working tirelessly to contain the situation," the monarch said.

    Almost 3,000 people were evacuated from their homes on Sunday and led to emergency shelters.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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