Bushfire Toll Rises to 173 in Australia, Massive Relief Operations are on

by Gopalan on  February 10, 2009 at 9:01 AM Environmental Health
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 Bushfire Toll Rises to 173 in Australia, Massive Relief Operations are on
Massive relief operations are mounted as death toll continues to rise in Australian bushfires. The toll is put at 173 now.

Rescuers are resuming the search for victims of Australia's bushfires amid fears the death toll will rise further.

At least 173 people have died and hundreds more have been injured by blazes sweeping across Victoria state.

Residents in many areas are still on alert as more than a dozen fires continue to burn uncontrolled.

The word "holocaust" is being used to describe the event and is considered by many to be the worst natural disaster ever in Australia.

A 100-strong police task force has been launched to investigate the fires. Some are being treated as arson that PM Kevin Rudd described as "mass murder".

MORE than one arsonist would have been responsible for several of the blazes which erupted in Victoria over the weekend, a fire criminologist believes.

About half of all bush fires in Australia are deliberately lit by fire bugs, Australian National University research fellow Dr Damon Muller said.

Given up to 400 fires hit Victoria over the weekend at varying locations across the state, Dr Muller believes more than one arsonist was at work.

"Without putting a figure on it, it would be surprising if some of them were not deliberately lit, just by virtue of the significant number,'' Dr Muller said.

"And by virtue of the diversity of locations there is probably a number of perpetrators.''

Federal Attorney General Robert McClelland said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's description of arsonists as "mass murderers'' in the circumstances was warranted and any offenders would be pursued with relevant murder charges.

"Anyone who lights fires deliberately, with reckless disregard for the safety of their fellow Australians, in our view establishes the requisite criminal intent that would sustain a charge of murder,'' Mr McClelland told parliament.

But other Australians have shown their compassion for victims of the devastating bushfires, raising millions of dollars to help their aid.

Donors have dug deep, pouring $5.6 million into the Victorian Bushfire Fund as at 3.30pm.

News Limited , publisher of the Herald Sun, has pledged $1 million to the fund.

 Question Time in both Houses of Parliament was cancelled today as a mark of respect to those killed in Victoria's bushfires.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard this morning told a sombre Caucus meeting the Government's response would continue over the weeks and months ahead.

Ms Gillard said the Government is considering a long-term recovery package to help rebuild the affected regions after more than 750 homes were destroyed.

While the debate continues about whether or not this was a climate change-related event, we all need to prepare for very high temperatures in the future,  said Dr Kathryn Gow a senior lecturer at Queensland University of Technology's School of Psychology and Counselling

What communities across the states can do is to offer their services in volunteer fire fighting and emergency services work; training can be undertaken by men and women who are willing to be a vibrant part of the communities in which they live and work.

Others who are not so fit can offer their services in the Country Women's Associations, Red Cross, or Salvation Army for example, and still others can join agencies such as Lifeline and train to be telephone counsellors and help the increasing number of distressed Australians who worry about how they will survive both now and in the future. People with veterinary and wildlife caring skills and experience can render aid to the animals who are damaged or lost in the fires and who are now homeless.

Disasters teach us what is really important and most of that is very close to home; as Australians we need to appreciate the basic values relayed to us by our Aboriginal Elders: caring, sharing and respect. We need to look after our families, friends, neighbours and community, rather than chasing the false gods of greed and materialism, Gow wrote for ABC Online.

Source: Medindia

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