Australia’s government said Monday it was willing to pay “whatever it takes” to help communities recover from the deadly wildfires that have ravaged the country.
-- Just here for the pictures? Scroll down to view them. --
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was committing the equivalent of $1.4 billion in U.S. currency toward the recovery effort, in addition to the tens of millions of dollars that have already been promised.
“The fires are still burning. And they’ll be burning for months to come,” Morrison said. “And so that’s why I outlined today that this is an initial, an additional, investment of $2 billion. If more is needed and the cost is higher, then more will be provided.”
Nationwide, at least 25 people have been killed and 2,000 homes destroyed by the blazes, which have so far scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland. Rain and cooler temperatures on Monday were bringing some relief to communities battling the fires. But the rain was also making it challenging for fire crews to complete strategic burns as they tried to prepare for higher temperatures that have been forecast for later in the week.
At last check, more than 135 fires were still burning across New South Wales, including almost 70 that were not contained. Officials have warned that the rain won’t put out the largest and most dangerous blazes before conditions deteriorate again.
As promised, here’s a look at some of the latest photos.
1.) Operation Bushfire Assist
2.) Wandering cattle
3.) Ghost town
4.) Tobacco-colored skies
5.) Haze across Sydney
6.) State of emergency
7.) Air quality
8.) Burned trees, debris
9.) A look from afar
10.) Army reservists called in
11.) People missing
12.) Burnt-out cars, destroyed houses
13.) Family evacuates
15.) Evacuation checks
Victoria state Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said at least 8 inches of rain would need to fall over a short period of time in order to snuff out the fires — around 20 times what has fallen across the region in the past day.
And officials warned that Australia’s wildfire season — which generally lasts through March — was nowhere near its end. Australia’s capital, Canberra, had the worst air quality of any major city in the world for much of Monday. The Department of Home Affairs, which is responsible for coordinating the country’s response to disasters, told all noncritical staff to stay home because of thick smoke choking the city.
The prime minister said the military was attempting to get food, fuel and water to burned-out communities, and engineers were working to reopen roads and resupply evacuation centers. On Kangaroo Island, a refuge off the coast of South Australia state for some of the country’s most endangered creatures, teams had arrived to help euthanize livestock and wild animals injured in the blazes. Hundreds of millions of animals are believed to have died already in the fires across the country.
Heavy smoke, meanwhile, was hampering the navy’s efforts to airlift people out of Mallacoota, a coastal town in Victoria cut off for days by fires that forced as many as 4,000 residents and tourists to shelter on beaches over the weekend. Around 300 people were still waiting to be evacuated on Monday.
Wildfires are common during the southern hemisphere summer, and Australians generally take a pragmatic view of them. But this year’s fires arrived unusually early, fed by drought and the country’s hottest and driest year on record. Scientists say there’s no doubt man-made global warming has played a major role in feeding the fires, along with factors like very dry brush and trees and strong winds.
All facts, figures and copy: The Associated Press.
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