Victoria fires: all the missing found safe but death toll could rise to three
All the Victorians missing in the state’s devastating bushfires have been found safe, with Premier Daniel Andrews praising the efforts of police in finding those unaccounted for in the blazes.
The confirmation that the final four people unaccounted for in the fire zones are safe will bring relief after as many as 28 Victorians were feared lost on Friday in the immediate aftermath of the worst days of the fires.
The death toll from the fires remained at two, Mr Andrews said on Monday, as he announced a new state government agency, Bushfire Recovery Victoria, with $50 million in start-up funding to take charge of the recovery effort.
A third death, of a state government employee returning to Melbourne from the fire grounds, has not yet been added to to the list of fire-related fatalities.
The real cost of recovery would be considerable, Mr Andrews said.
"It won't be $50 million. It won't be $500 million. It will be a lot more than that. We have to rebuild the roads and bridges, schools, kinders, other community facilities. And we have to help people build their homes and help to build that sense of confidence and strength and make sure everybody is looked after."
More than 200 properties have been confirmed destroyed, the Premier said at Monday’s briefing at the State Control Centre, but that figure is expected to exceed 300 when the full extent of the damage is assessed.
The evacuation orders in place for the bushfire zones have been lifted, but the declared State of Disaster will remain in place until Thursday.
The evacuation of Mallacoota is still not complete. Plans to airlift another 300 stranded holidaymakers on Monday were stymied by the thick smoke still blanketing the area; 400 people were flown on Sunday by ADF aircraft.
The Premier said the cooler and wetter weather on Sunday and Monday had offered authorities a reprieve to begin fixing roads, assessing damage and allowing residents who had fled their homes to return.
Across East Gippsland, 18 communities, including Mallacoota, remain cut off from road access to the outside world with most being supplied by ADF air drops. Work is under way to open up the region's main highways.
Residents in towns such as Cabbage Tree Creek were offered first aid, supplies and the option to evacuate, along with satellite phones for future contact. Emergency Services Commissioner Andrew Crisp said many had already fled the towns by choice. Authorities have not reached the hamlets of Bendoc and Bonang but Mr Crisp said contact had been made with residents, who were safe.
Mr Andrews said Bushfire Recovery Victoria would be a permanent fixture, unlike previous recovery agencies, with longer and more intense bushfire seasons expected to cause “more and more fires and more and more damage”.
The Premier said it was “fantastic news” that all the missing had been found but acknowledged the two Victorians who had lost their lives in the blazes.
“We now have nobody who is missing, no one whose whereabouts is not known to us,” he said.
“That is fantastic news and it’s a great credit to Victoria Police who have been very committed to finding every single one of those people. Sadly, of course, two people have lost their lives and we again send our best wishes to their families who are doing it very very tough at this difficult time.”
The Princes Highway to the Mallacoota turn-off and the Great Alpine Road west of Omeo are the first priorities for state government repair crews racing to re-open roads cut off in the bushfire crisis.
Department of Transport roads boss Jerome Weimar said the Great Alpine Road into Omeo from the south had been cleared and crews were working to get the rest of the vital route open.
Gelantipy Road, north of Buchan, is another priority for re-opening as well as Bonang Road, north of Orbost.
Fallen power lines, toppled trees, and damaged bridges and “other structures” mean it could be days before the region's roads are open.
Work on the road to Mallacoota will use heavy equipment landed by the navy vessel, HMAS Choules, on its return trip to the town after taking hundreds of evacuees to Hastings on the Mornington Peninsula.
Source: The Age