Australia is teetering on the edge of a humanitarian crisis as remote communities remain cut off from medical help, water sources are compromised and food and fuel supplies run low.
Hundreds of fires are still burning out of control across the country, destroying millions of hectares, killing 18 and leaving at least 1,200 homes destroyed, with catastrophic 46C weather conditions forecast for Saturday.
HMAS Choules, which delivered emergency supplies to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, left Sydney on Wednesday and docked off the coast of fire-stricken Mallacoota mid-morning on Thursday.
HMAS Choules can carry 700 passengers but there are up 4,000 people who remain stranded in the seaside town after it was devastated by bushfires.
The ship has also brought much-needed relief for those who will remain in the seaside town.
Authorities are considering airlifting more supplies, such as water, toilet paper and basic medical supplies as some roads may be closed for weeks.
On New Year’s Eve residents and tourists fled to Mallacoota’s beach, ready to throw themselves in the water to protect themselves from the flames while the sky turned an apocalyptic red.
There are concerns that the town’s water supply has now become contaminated due to the fires, and residents have been told to boil water until it can be tested.
Australian State NSW Declares 3rd State of Emergency Amid Bushfires, Worse Conditions Expected
Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales has declared a third state of emergency of the bushfire season ahead of re-elevated fire risk over the weekend.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the declaration would come into effect from Friday morning, with severe to extreme conditions forecast for Saturday.
“All our personnel, all our agencies know that from tomorrow they will be subject to forced evacuations, road closures, road openings and anything else we need to do as a state to keep our residents and to keep property safe. We don’t take these decisions lightly,” Berejiklian told reporters on Thursday.
Mass evacuations from bushfire-ravaged southern NSW, meanwhile, have been hampered by massive traffic queues and petrol shortages.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison has implored those travelling north from the embattled region and the Snowy Valleys—where “tourist leave zones” have been established—to remain patient and cooperative.
Half a billion animals perish in bushfires
There are real concerns entire species of plants and animals have been wiped out by bushfires following revelations almost 500 million animals have died since the crisis began.
Ecologists from the University of Sydney now estimate 480 million mammals, birds and reptiles have been lost since September.
That figure is likely to soar following the devastating fires which have ripped through Victoria and the NSW South Coast over the past couple of days, leaving several people dead or unaccounted for, razing scores of homes and leaving thousands stranded.