300 Pinoys moved out of bushfire areas in Australia

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    ABOUT 300 Filipinos were among residents evacuated by Australian authorities from communities affected by wildfires while five other Filipinos lost their homes, the Philippine Embassy in Canberra said yesterday.

    At least 300,000 Filipinos are living and working in Australia.

    Australian officials yesterday took advantage of better weather to reopen roads blocked by wildfires and move some people to safety although thick smoke stalled rescue efforts and hundreds of people remained stranded.

    Fires have ravaged more than 8 million hectares (19.8 million acres) of land across the country, an area nearly the size of Austria, killing 25 people, destroying thousands of building and leaving some towns without electricity and mobile coverage.

    Australian police confirmed the death of a 71-year-old man on the south coast of New South Wales state, who was reported missing on December 31.

    A second day of light rain and cool winds brought some relief from heat-fuelled blazes that consumed parts of two states over the weekend, but officials warned the dangerous weather was expected to return this week.

    Aian Caringal, First Secretary and Consul General of the Philippine Embassy in Canberra, told ABS CBN News Channel that the 300 Filipinos evacuated from East Gippsland in Victoria are being attended to by local authorities and were given temporary housing and emergency relief.

    He said the embassy is ready to repatriate Filipino workers in Australia who may wish to return to Manila due to the calamity. But the embassy has yet to receive a request, he said.

    The Philippine Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand meanwhile, assured the public it is monitoring the effect of the bushfires which have caused skies in the country to turn yellow.

    An official of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said a prayer the end of the bushfires is being said in the Bataan diocese.

    “We pray for all the lives lost, homes destroyed, lands burnt to the grounds, and livelihoods gone. We pray for all the firefighters and volunteers for their strength to be renewed,” said Bishop Ruperto Santos, vice chairman of the CBCP’s Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, reciting part of the prayer.

    “We also lift up to you those who struggle with despair and unbelief in these trying times. Provide a place of refuge and provision for everyone,” he added.

    Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has come under criticism for what opponents call his government’s failure to tackle climate change, announced A$2 billion ($1.4 billion) over two years for a newly formed National Bushfire Recovery Agency.

    The bushfire season started earlier than normal this year following a three-year drought that has left much of the country’s bushland tinder-dry.

    Victoria state had 39 fires with 13 “watch and act” alerts.

    Canberra was running short of masks as smoke blanketed the capital.

    Pictures on social media showed the city of Melbourne cloaked in thick smoke. – With Reuters