Forest fire crisis in Australia: the prime minister establishes a national forest fire recovery agency, the number of victims increases to 24
MELBOURNE: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison established a National Bushfire Recovery Agency on Sunday to coordinate recovery efforts ranging from rebuilding infrastructure to providing mental health support, even when authorities fought to fight the fury that has so far claimed the lives of 24 people.
The agency, headed by the former federal police chief, will help communities affected by forest fires recover, according to media reports.
Morrison, who faces widespread criticism for his handling of the crisis, said: This organization will remain standing for at least two years.
I have no doubt that they will have a long list of recovery tasks that (the states) will carry out ... the reconstruction of bridges, roads and other critical infrastructure and we will work hand in hand.
The agency will model its operations closely on the successful response provided to flooding in northern Queensland, he said.
That agency will be based on a series of support measures that include mental health. It is important that we address mental health needs, as well as the many other health needs that should be addressed, Morrison said.
On Saturday, he summoned 3,000 military reserve soldiers to fight forest fires, the first time reservists were summoned in such a large number in living memory.
Morrison was criticized for taking a family vacation in Hawaii at the beginning of the forest fire crisis, and many people complained about the lack of preparation for the use of resources.
Last week, he was disturbed when he visited a municipality in New South Wales where houses were destroyed and one of them belonged to one of three volunteer firefighters who died in the crisis.
New warnings were issued to hundreds of people taking refuge in the coastal city of Eden, in New South Wales, and authorities urged them to leave the area immediately.
Australian authorities continued to struggle with the current forest fire crisis in several states, including Victoria, South Australia and Queensland.
According to media reports, dozens of people had sought refuge at Eden's pier, but police said the area was no longer safe.
Police officers who warn tourists and those who cannot defend their homes leave, said: We cannot guarantee their safety at this time in the conditions we have now at the Eden Pier.
The commissioner of the Rural Fire Service of New South Wales, Shane Fitzsimmons, said reports of property losses are likely to be hundreds as a result of Saturday's fire activity.
Morrison, at a press conference at Parliament's house on Saturday, said it was a very difficult day for Australia confirming 23 deaths from the fire season this year.
One more person died trying to save a friend's house on Sunday.
I want to begin by extending my sincere condolences and sympathies once again to all those Australians and families who have lost loved ones during the course of these devastating forest fires. Twenty-three confirmed deaths to date and we face another extremely difficult one. 24 hours, said the prime minister.
The forest fire crisis has taken a very high price with more than 1,500 homes already lost in the course of this fire season, which has been running since September, Morrison said.
I also want to acknowledge the outstanding work that everyone who has been assisting and responding to these natural disasters is doing, not only in the most impacted states, in New South Wales and Victoria today, but also up in Queensland, western Australia , in Tasmania, even today in southern Australia. This has been affecting the entire country, he said.
In Victoria, warnings about several fires were reduced, but there were still four emergency level warnings for fires and two evacuation warnings.
Nearly 40 fires, more than 923,000 hectares have been burned in Victoria and the loss of 110 houses has been confirmed, 220 units destroyed.
Meanwhile, Sunday's coldest rainfall and weather conditions in the state, including the Gippsland region, were expected not to ease the crisis.
The emergency services minister, Lisa Neville, said 200 mm of rainfall would be needed in a few days to directly impact the flames, and that it is not on the horizon.
The Emergency Management Commission, Andrew Crisp, said the rain could in fact hinder access to remote areas for burns or other assistance.
In New South Wales, 18 people lost their lives in 150 forest fires, 64 not contained throughout the state. More than 3.6 million hectares have been burned with more than 1300 homes destroyed.
In Victoria, the death of two people was confirmed, while in South Australia the death of three people with 15 forest fires was confirmed.
No loss of life has been reported since Western Australia, where 30 forest fires are burned. Queensland has 30 forest fires, while Tasmania 23 forest fires.
More than 3,000 firefighters are on the front line, with 31 specialized attack teams throughout NSW.
The Australian army has been helping with air reconnaissance, mapping, search and rescue, logistics and air support for months.
Prime Minister Morrison canceled his first planned visit to India since January 13 due to the catastrophic forest fire crisis.