09 February 2009
SALVATION Army personnel in Australia are providing vital assistance to emergency service workers and other people affected by the bushfires that have killed a record number of people in the State of Victoria. Over the weekend of 7/8 February, 225 volunteers in 16 teams worked alongside emergency service crews and devastated communities to provide chaplaincy support to those assisting with the emergency and to families and individuals who are in shock from the enormity of the disaster.

The bushfires have taken the lives of at least 108 people, with the toll expected to rise as emergency teams gain access to devastated areas. The latest death toll surpasses that of the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires, in which 75 people died in Victoria and South Australia, and the Black Friday bushfires of 1939 which killed 71 people. Dozens of towns are still under threat as fires continue to burn out of control.

Firefighters worked through the night to battle 31 fires across Victoria that have destroyed at least 750 homes. Hundreds of local firefighters were joined by 92 from Tasmania and 150 from New South Wales. Reinforcements from New Zealand are expected to arrive soon.

The Salvation Army is heavily involved in the response phase of this emergency, providing emergency accommodation, clothing, toiletries and other goods, and supplying food and refreshments for firefighters and bushfire victims. The outpouring of support from individuals, communities and businesses willing to become involved in Salvation Army relief efforts has been overwhelming.

The Salvation Army Overdale Rural Rehabilitation Centre in Kilmore was razed to the ground by one of the fires. This facility provided rehabilitation services to hundreds of Victorians since its establishment six years ago. It has been totally destroyed, along with vehicles, equipment and medications. The residents had been evacuated on Saturday afternoon and were not harmed.

The Salvation Army's Australia Southern Territory launched a public appeal and the response from the corporate community, as well as from individuals, is encouraging and uplifting. In the first day of the appeal, more than Aus$1 million was given by corporate and private donors, as well as goods in kind for affected communities. There is a great deal of interest from the media – in Australia and around the world – as to how The Salvation Army is providing assistance.

The coming days are expected to be critical and it is anticipated that the fires may take several days to control and extinguish. The Salvation Army will move towards the recovery phase in the next few days, working with the affected communities to help people rebuild their lives.
Report by Colonel Raymond Finger
Chief Secretary, Australia Southern Territory

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