Army assists in Australia fires PM Morrison criticised for slow response

RESERVE troops fanned out across fire-ravaged regions in three Australian (澳洲的) states on 6 January after a horrific weekend, as the government pledged AU$2 billion (HK$10.78 billion) over two years to help recover from the devastating months-long crisis.

Catastrophic bushfires have turned swathes of land into smouldering, blackened hellscapes and destroyed an area about the size of the island of Ireland (愛爾蘭), according to official figures.

Authorities warn the disaster still has weeks or months to run.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose government has been criticised for its slow response to the emergency, pledged AU$2 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,” Morrison said.

Firefighters, joined by fresh teams from the US and Canada (加拿大), took advantage of rainy and cooler conditions to tackle out-of control blazes ahead of rising temperatures forecast later this week.

In the biggest-ever call-up of reserves, military teams were deployed across eastern Australia to help emergency services assess the damage, restore power and deliver supplies of food, water and fuel to cut-off communities.

For the first time in Australian history the government also deployed its medical assistance team to help evacuees. The team is normally sent to other nations to lend support in the aftermath of their disasters.

“There is no room for complacency, especially as we have over 130 fires burning across [New South Wales] state still,” Premier of New South Wales state Gladys Berejiklian said on 6 January.

Almost five million hectares have been razed across New South Wales and more than 1.2 million hectares in Victoria since late September, officials said.

Twenty-five people have lost their lives, after police in New South Wales confirmed on 6 January that a 71-year-old man reported missing had died, raising the toll by one.

Another person was still unaccounted for in the nation’s most populous state.

More than 1,800 homes have been damaged.

In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews established a bushfire recovery agency to help devastated towns. It will be a permanent body, he said, as intense fires will become common place.

“We should just be honest about the fact that we’re going to see more and more fires, more and more damage as each fire season comes ... This is the new normal,” Andrews told reporters.

The chair of the newly established Victoria state bushfire appeal fund, Pat McNamara,added that this year’s summer bush fire season was a “creeping disaster”.

(This article is published on the Student Standard on 10 January 2020)