January 02, 2020

Australia bushfires: Residents refuse to shake prime minister Scott Morrisons hand as mass evacuation begins
The Australian prime minister was heckled out of a fire-ravaged town in New South Wales on Thursday, as a mass evacuation of the region got under way ahead of worsening conditions.   Video of the visit to Cobargo, on the south coast, showed Scott Morrison insist a woman shake his hand as she criticised him over the government's response to the crisis. “I am only shaking your hand if you give more funding to the RFS (Rural fire Service),” she said as he turned away. “So many people have lost their homes. We need more help.” The prime minister was soon ushered to his car by minders when other residents began shouting at him. “You won't be getting any votes down here buddy,” one called out. A firefighter also refused to shake Mr Morrison's hand. Video footage showed Mr Morrison trying to grab the man's hand, who then got up and walked away, sparking an apology from the prime minister. A local fire official explained that the man had lost his house while defending others' homes. Read more | Australia's bushfire crisis Even a state politician from his own Liberal party whose seat is in the region took a swipe at the prime minister. "To be honest, the locals probably gave him the welcome he probably deserved," said New South Wales transport minister Andrew Constance. Mr Morrison said on Friday he didn't take the attacks personally. "I understand the hurt, the anger and the frustration," he said in an interview on 3AW radio. "Whether they're angry with me or they're angry about their situation, all I know is that they're hurting and it's my job to be there to try and offer some comfort and support," he said. Anger over the government's handling of the crisis has grown since the outbreak of wildfires, which have so far killed at least 17 people, including nine since Christmas Day, and destroyed 1,400 homes. In Victoria, 28 people are currently unaccounted for.  In Cobargo, a 29-year-old dairy farmer and his father, 53, were killed earlier this week as fires swept through the village.  Mr Morrison has overseen more than $12.9m cuts to the state's fire service in the latest budget, and has been criticised for rejecting calls to professionalise the service. New South Wales has declared a state of emergency, starting from Friday, and told tourists to leave a 155-mile stretch of the state's southern coast as temperatures were expected to reach 40 degrees celsius on Saturday. The army began evacuations in what the state's transport minister said was the "largest mass relocation of people out of the region that we've ever seen". But tens of thousands were still stranded by Thursday night as roads became gridlocked, with shops and fuel stations running out of supplies. A long queue forms at a Woolworths supermarket in Ulladulla, New South Wales The navy was called in to assist in getting people out of the town of Mallacoota, in the neighbouring state of Victoria, where 4,000 people were trapped on the beach for days after the fire devastated much of their town. Rob Rogers, NSW's Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner,  said firefighters were struggling to combat the fires.  "The message is we've got so much fire in that area, we have no capacity to contain these fires," he told ABC. "We just need to make sure that people are not in front of them." In addition to the loss of human life, homes and farmland, ecologists from the University of Sydney estimate almost half a billion mammals, birds and reptiles have been lost this fire season, with the toll expected to rise. At least 17 people were reported to be missing on Thursday across Victoria. The body of Mick Roberts, who had been unaccounted for since Monday, was found dead in his home in Buchan, East Gippsland, on Wednesday, his niece said. Australia fires gallery “He’s not missing any more ... sorry but his body has been found in his house… Very sad day for us to (start) the year but we’re a bloody tight family and we will never forget our mate and my beautiful Uncle Mick,” she wrote on Facebook . Brie Kingsely, a Melbourne resident, witnessed the sheer scale of the crisis while driving from Sydney to get home.  She told The Telegraph the entire six-hour journey was “smoke-ridden”.   “I drove from Sydney to Melbourne. At the worst of it I was 10km from an active, 100 thousand-hectare out of control fire next to the Hume Highway,” she said. “It wasn’t closed, but basically smoke-ridden for six hours.” A tender from HMAS Choules motors through smoke haze off the coast of Mallacoota Credit: AP Mr Morrison said the crisis was likely to last for months. "It (fires) will continue to go on until we can get some decent rain that can deal with some of the fires that have been burning for many, many months," he told reporters on Thursday. Australia’s capital, Canberra, recorded the worst air quality of any city in the world on Thursday, an astonishing outcome for a city of just 400,000 people. An elderly woman who arrived in the city by plane died shortly after, and family believe it was related to smoke inhalation, though that is yet to be confirmed.
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