Amid a massive bushfire, Australian authorities issued new warnings and evacuation notices across the country’s heavily populated southeast on Thursday.
A disaster notice in Victoria state, already in place for the past week, was extended by two days and people in danger zones were told to leave.
In neighbouring New South Wales state, residents were told to prepare for worsening weather conditions on Friday.
During a televised briefing, Victoria Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said, “These fires are absolutely still moving, still growing in our landscape and they pose a significant risk to communities”.
At least Twenty-seven people were killed, thousands have been made homeless and thousands of others have had to evacuate repeatedly as the monster fires have scorched through more than 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres) of land, an area the size of South Korea.
The national weather agency confirmed fears there was no sign of that happening in the next few months as it released its annual report, which also showed that 2019 was Australia’s hottest and driest year on record.
Earlier, PM Scott Morrison said, “This is taking a very heavy toll,” adding to it that more than 1,500 homes lost to fires across the country since September.
Morrison also cancelled his official trip to India that was planned for this month in order to deal with a bushfire crisis ravaging parts of his country.
About 4,000 people in the town of Mallacoota in Victoria headed to the waterfront after the main road was cut off.
The New South Wales (NSW) state had declared a state of emergency, with bushfire conditions expected to worsen over the coming days as a record-breaking heatwave sweeps across the country.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose government has been criticised for its slow response to the emergency, pledged Australian $2 billion ($1.4 billion) of taxpayer money for a national recovery fund. “It’s a long road ahead and we will be with these communities every step of the way as they rebuild,” he added.
The impact of the bushfires has spread beyond affected communities, with heavy smoke engulfing the country’s second-largest city Melbourne and the national capital Canberra. Some government departments were shut in Canberra as the city’s air quality was once-again ranked the world’s poorest, according to independent online air-quality index monitor Air Visual.
Most of the fires that have devastated much of Australia’s east coast occurred in New South Wales, where 1,870 homes have been destroyed so far, authorities said.
On Wednesday, PM Morrison urged foreign tourists not to be deterred by deadly wildfires, fearing a lack of holiday-makers could hurt the economy. Some normally crowded resorts have already turned into ghost towns.