Kinglake and Marysville
Two towns that were hard hit by the bushfires that started on Saturday were Kinglake and Marysville, now both almost totally destroyed. (Ironically, there's an art exhibition on in Geelong at the Wintergarten of beautiful landscapes of the Marysville area.) I have been listening to ABC 774 today which provides bushfire warnings (which is on-going) and news all day. Some of the victims waiting to return to see if their homes in Kinglake are still standing are at the evacuation centre at Whittlesea which is now inundated with police (good), the Salvation Army (good) Red Cross, (good) Emergency Services guys (good)and the media (well, I wonder). I was astonished to hear that there was a long line of vehicles full of news reporters going to the Kinglake site ahead of the victims being allowed to return. That is really wrong.
Here are a few notes from a new item from Channel Nine - and I notice they didn't report the pushy journos rushing for stories.
The Kinglake area remains the worst-hit by a fierce 220,000 hectare firestorm which ripped through the region on Saturday, killing 103 people so far and destroying over 550 homes. At least 33 residents from the township of Kinglake alone have been killed, and a further nine from Kinglake West, with more expected.
The once idyllic communities of Kinglake, Strathewen and Marysville are little more than collections of ash and charcoal, with a few burnt-out house frames standing limply amid charred corrugated iron. The toll reached seven in tiny Strathewen where only three of the mountain hamlet's 40 houses were still standing.
Nearby Marysville was annihilated and is one town to be declared a crime scene as police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon confirmed some fires were deliberately lit.
Ms Nixon said a taskforce would be set up on Tuesday to investigate arson.
An emotional Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the firebugs responsible were nothing short of mass murderers. "What do you say about anyone like that? There are no words to describe it other than mass murder," Mr Rudd said. "This is of a level of horror that few of us anticipated."
The Churchill fire in Gippsland, which police confirm was deliberately lit, had killed at least 19 people by 6pm on Monday, including nine in Callignee.
The 35,000 hectare blaze broke through containment lines earlier in the day and hit the town of Churchill, which is also a crime scene, and was threatening nearby Yarram.
In the north of the state, fire around Dederang escalated significantly late on Monday afternoon, also threatening the towns of Beechworth and Yackandandah.
The fire was spotting ahead of the main fire and ash and embers were threatening communities in Gundowring, Gundowring Upper, Glen Creek, Kergunyah South, Mudgeegonga and Running Creek.
Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers have been traumatised by many of their gruesome discoveries and the job of searching for bodies has been taken over by specialised police Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) teams.
Burnt-out cars which became tombs lined bush roads in the central highlands and volunteers were recovering the charred remains of friends and colleagues.
As more horrifying stories unfolded on Monday, three sisters were waiting near a roadblock outside Healesville when they were told their parents and disabled brother were killed.
Two of the sisters' husbands had gone through the roadblock in a desperate search for Faye and Bill Walker and their wheelchair-bound son, Geoffrey, 53, at their home in the nearby village of Narbethong. The husbands found their bodies inside the house, with their car parked outside, packed and ready to go with the key in its ignition and family dog in the back. The three daughters Marilyn, Julie and Vivian, were inconsolable as they cried and hugged each other at the roadblock when their partners returned with the news.
Twenty serious burns patients have been admitted to The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne in 24 hours, all with burns to more than 30 per cent of their bodies. The Alfred's Dr De Villiers Smit told reporters the scale of the disaster is worse than the Bali bombings. "This is by far the worst disaster I've ever been involved with," he said.
Huge emergency relief operations are underway throughout the state, with a massive exercise at Whittlesea which is serving survivors from Kinglake and its environs. As refugees flooded down the mountain from Kinglake and surrounding townships into Whittlesea, emergency relief workers headed the other way, taking desperately needed food, water and fuel supplies to those who have remained behind.
"That's the second phase of the operation. First it's been making the area safe for firefighters to work in but also getting supplies and resources to people on the mountain who decided to stay and protect their properties," CFA spokesman Dave Wolf told AAP.
Tent cities have been set up in areas such as nearby Yea, while caravans, community halls and strangers' houses have become homes to thousands of newly homeless Victorians.
The Queen expressed her shock at the devastating bushfires in a message to Australia. "I was shocked and saddened to learn of the terrible toll being exacted by the fires this weekend," the Queen said in a statement. "I send my heartfelt condolences to the families of all those who have died and my deep sympathy to the many that have lost their homes in this disaster."