Victorian bushfires continues, as Red Cross steps up assistance

Published: 13 February 2009 0:00 CET

Jack Barber spent a long night seeking refuge on a football field in Kinglake West, as the fires roared around him. He eventually made it to the evacuation centre in nearby Whittlesea, about 45 kilometres north-east of Melbourne. He is alive today, but not so for more than 180 people who have been confirmed dead and many more are at risk as the Victorian bushfires rage on in Australia, far surpassing the State's toll of 47 recorded in the 1983 Ash Wednesday blazes.

Many survivors are in intensive care units of Melbourne’s hospitals. According to media reports, over 450 people have reported to hospital emergency departments across the State since the fires broke out, as record temperatures approached 50 Celsius on 7 February. Almost 400,000 hectares have been consumed by the blazes and more than 1,000 homes destroyed.

Australian Red Cross teams have responded to the worst-hit mountain town of Kinglake, providing medical supplies and food, especially to a community that chose not to leave when the fires roared through, and who have not had any contact since. The Red Cross team is providing medical assistance and food to this community, as well as registering their names so family and friends can know they are safe and well. Emergency services are yet to reach some areas that have been affected.

Another Red Cross team is focusing on the Whittlesea evacuation centre as people are able to return to their homes for the first time with roads open to limited traffic. Over 400 Red Cross personnel are working rotating shifts in 20 evacuation centres and offices in Victoria, providing temporary accommodation, food, First Aid and other support areas.

As of 7 February, the Red Cross served thousands of meals, registered 7,500 people and provided 4,500 first aid treatment. More than 15,000 people in Australia and globally have called the Red Cross Inquiry Centre to find out about their family and friends.

Both Federal and State governments in Australia have pledged financial and material support to people affected by the bushfire emergency. The Victorian Premier John Brumby launched a Royal Commission into the bushfires, reviewing every aspect of the State's fire strategy.

The Victorian Bushfire Appeal was announced by Premier John Brumby on 8 February as a partnership between the Victoria Government, Federal Government and the Australian Red Cross to provide assistance to individuals and communities in towns and suburbs affected by the bushfires. To date, the Australian Red Cross has received over AUD$ 50 million from supporters and is seeking for further assistance.