Thousands of trapped residents of a small coastal community in Victoria’s east face an anxious wait to be rescued as extreme weather conditions arrive.
Mallacoota, 10km from the NSW border, was ravaged by bushfires on New Year’s Eve, with authorities confirming 10 homes were lost however locals believe dozens more have perished.
While many fled the apocalyptic scenes, rushing into the waters surrounding the town, most have been able to return, however supplies are quickly running out with no road access.
Premier Daniel Andrews requested help from military personnel including navy vessels while two smaller boats arrived on Wednesday bringing much-needed supplies including food, water and fuel.
Larger navy vessels able to take up to 1000 people are headed for the community.
Navy vessel HMAS Choules is on its way to Mallacoota from Sydney to rescue residents. It is expected mid morning.
— Mimi Becker (@MimiRoseBecker) January 1, 2020
Black Hawk helicopters have arrived in the town to remove some of the residents.
There is a race against time to save residents, about 4000 of them, with worsening conditions arriving by Saturday.
Temperatures in the town are expected to rise to 41C on the weekend.
As the fires ripped through East Gippsland, one man lost his life in his home in Buchan, 200km west of Mallacoota. Across the border in NSW, seven people have died since Monday.
Very sad to let you know we lost our family holiday home at Mallacoota🔥 our neighbours have all lost theirs too several being their homes.. we enjoyed much fun, love and friendships there for over 50 years! My heart goes out to all the Mallacoota community🤗 #MallacootaFires pic.twitter.com/CUHAPi6V1W
— Barbara Norman (@ProfBarbaraN) January 1, 2020
Our officers are working around the clock to help the community and fellow emergency services in East Gippsland.
Three police vessels have taken police to Mallacoota this afternoon, along with 1.6 tonnes of water, a MICA paramedic, food and medical supplies. pic.twitter.com/LzcysjEpzR
— Victoria Police (@VictoriaPolice) January 1, 2020
Tourists must leave now, RFS says
Tourists in the popular holiday region of southern NSW are now being urged to leave as locals and authorities brace for severe and extreme fire danger across the weekend.
So far the region has lost at least 176 homes with that number expected to rise.
"Where roads can be accessed, we will be encouraging tourists, especially, to move out of those areas whilst it's safe to do so," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Wednesday.
But she asked for patience as not all roads would be opened until trees and debris were cleared.
"Just because you can't see flames doesn't mean the road is safe to use."
However the ABC reported petrol stations are quickly running out of fuel, threatening holiday makers and residents’ ability to evacuate the area.
Stations in Bega and Tathra have run out of fuel while Eden is running low.
According to local MP Andrew Constance, fuel tankers have been given a police escort into Batemans Bay to resupply the area as people trying to leave queue for petrol.
Police are directing traffic at an #Eden petrol station because the queue has got so long. Supply has been restocked this afternoon and drivers are taking the opportunity to fill up now and leave to #Canberra before conditions deteriorate on Sat #nswfires @abcnews @ABCemergency pic.twitter.com/fTs496XKGm
— Adriane Reardon (@adrianereardon) January 1, 2020
Horror weekend ahead
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said conditions on Saturday would likely be worse than those on New Year's Eve, which left a trail of destroyed homes, businesses and utility lines up and down the south coast.
"We've seen the enormity of damage, destruction and devastation that unfolded (on Tuesday)," he said.
"This risk is very real."
He said extreme fire danger was likely over more regions in southern NSW, which "unfortunately correlates with where we have some of the worst, most damaging and destructive bushfires".
"We all need to prepare ourselves for more challenging conditions to once again impact a large geographic area of NSW, particularly the southeast quadrant," he said.
The RFS warned holidaymakers on the south coast to leave before Saturday and warned those planning to travel there on the weekend to cancel their trip.
Tourist Leave Zone – South Coast Bush Fires
Dangerous conditions for holiday makers on the South Coast of NSW this weekend
With the widespread power and communications outages across the South Coast please share this information to as many affected people as possible. #nswrfs pic.twitter.com/JvbwrpC1fe
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 1, 2020
Authorities also confirmed the body of a 70-year-old man had been found in Coolagolite, east of Cobargo, on Tuesday.
Coolagolite farmer Steve Shipton survived the same firefront but thought he "was gone" as he tried to save his family and his home.
"It's just unbelievable. The ferocity and how quick... That's what shocked me and that's why I thought we were in a good situation to survive," the soot-covered farmer said.
A Belowra man, 72, remains missing.
Lack of power for residents to continue
Tens of thousands are also without power after transmission lines were damaged, with authorities warning it may be a lenghty process to return power due to safety concerns.
"People need to understand this is not a simple or easy task,” NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said.
Very high fire danger is forecast on Thursday for eight fire districts on or west of the Great Dividing Range while high fire risk is due for some coastal regions.
More than 100 fires are burning across the state.
Since the start of July, at least 15 people have died and more than 1000 homes have been destroyed by bushfires in NSW. More than 3.6 million hectares - three times the size of Sydney's metro area - have been burnt.
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