Deaths climb to 96 with more to come
February 9, 2009
THE death toll from Victoria’s devastating bushfires climbed to 96 last night and is likely to rise as emergency services finally gain access to many razed areas.
Many deaths came where the suburbs of Melbourne meet the bush, with at least 18 people killed in the fierce Kinglake blaze, 12 at St Andrews, five at Humevale and three at Whittlesea.
Almost the entire township of Marysville, in the Yarra Valley, has been destroyed and two people confirmed dead, with this number expected to rise.
Further north in the tiny village of Taggerty, three people have been killed.
In the Yarra Valley, seven people were killed at Steels Creek and one person died in hospital at Yea.
Nine deaths were reported in Gippsland in the state’s east on Sunday as the 32,860-hectare Churchill fire burned almost to the coast. The Bunyip Ridge fire burned 25,000 hectares and torched the township of Labertouche on Saturday.
Entire towns were wiped out while communities in Dederang, Taggerty and Glenburn in the state’s north were still under threat on Sunday night, almost 36 hours after the first fires began.
In the state’s east, three people were killed at Hazelwood, in the Latrobe Valley.
Last night residents from the town of Strathewen, about 50 kilometres north-east of Melbourne, were mourning the death of panel beater Peter Avola, 67.
Authorities said they held fears for up to 20 people missing in the Strathewen area.
Mr Avola died after he and his wife Mary decided to flee their endangered Chadds Creek Road home.
Mrs Avola said she lost sight of her husband after they left their home in separate cars.
She and her husband of 43 years tried to reach a nearby oval, but a gate was locked.
Mr Avola told his wife to go ahead and that was the last time she had seen him, she said.
He was found near the Ford Falcon in which he was travelling.
Further west, four people were killed in the town of Wandong, on the Hume Highway. Channel Nine reported that five people died in a house at Kinglake where they had taken shelter, including Neeve Buchanan, 9, her brother “Mackie”, 16, two other teenagers and an uncle. Their grandparent are believed to have escaped.
Geoff and Sue Hyde, of Cobham Road, Kinglake, are also missing. Ms Hyde works as an administrator on Mountain Monthly magazine, a local community newspaper.
In Marysville, elderly couple Elaine and Len Posstlewaite, residents of Falls Road, are unaccounted for after they stayed behind to defend their home. Local residents say at least 15 more people are missing, feared dead.
St Andrews Hotel publican Helen Stamkovski said local resident Rae Carter died in the blaze while her husband Allan was in hospital with severe burns. The family own a dairy goat farm at St Andrews. Mrs Carter is believed to have died in her car while trying to protect the property. Her son found her.
“It’s just awful, devastating what has happened,” Mrs Stamkovski said. “No one knows what to do.”
She said George Jackson, a well-known St Andrews delivery driver, had been found dead in his burnt-out kitchen.
Also missing is Reg Evans, an actor in his 80s, who appeared in Mad Max and Blue Heelers. He stayed behind to defend his property.
Mr Rudd pledged the Army would join efforts to overcome the bushfires.
“Many good people now lie dead. Many others lie injured,” he said. “This is an appalling tragedy for Victoria but because of that it’s an appalling tragedy for the nation.”