Navy sent in to rescue thousands trapped on beach - amid dire new warning for tourists

·News Reporter

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.

Pictured is Mallacoota residents on the shoreline on Tuesday amid the Victoria bushfires.
Mallacoota residents on the shoreline on Tuesday. Source: Twitter/ bluefestblues
HMAS Choules departing Sydney for Mallacoota. Source: AAP
HMAS Choules departing Sydney for Mallacoota. Source: AAP

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.

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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.

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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.

On Wednesday, residents in fire-ravaged areas were urged not to panic buy or stockpile supermarket supplies with images showing lengthy queues at supermarkets.

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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.

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On Wednesday, police found three bodies in the fire-gutted communities of Sussex Inlet and Yatte Yattah.

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.

Steve Shipton (centre) is consoled by fellow farmers Bernie Smith (left) and Peter Mercieca in Coolagolite, NSW, Wednesday, January 1, 2020. Source: AAP
Steve Shipton (centre) is consoled by fellow farmers Bernie Smith (left) and Peter Mercieca in Coolagolite, NSW, Wednesday, January 1, 2020. Source: AAP

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.

With AAP

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