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The latest from the bushfires: A huge military rescue operation and a visit from the PM.

As of today, more than five million hectares of Australian land has been lost to bushfire this season.

We’ve lost 19 human lives – three of which were volunteer firefighters.

We’ve lost 480 million – almost half a billion – animal lives.

At least 1400 homes have been destroyed.

But these are just the numbers, these figures don’t put into perspective the emotional turmoil, the fear, the worry, the heartbreak.

Here’s an insight into the fear. Tracey and her family ran for their lives last week as fire licked its way up their holiday home. Post continues after video.

Video via Tracey Matchett

If we were to compare the destruction on a global scale, the 2019 Amazon fires (across four countries) destroyed 906,000 hectares, and the California fires burnt 102,000 hectares. The fires in NSW alone have burnt through an area the size of Belgium.

The fires in Australia right now are unprecedented. The scale of this disaster is unfathomable.

The even more terrifying reality is that they’re far from over. Yes, the fires are still burning, but we’re also now facing a humanitarian crisis because of the scale and unrelenting nature of them.

Victoria’s Gippsland.

A state of disaster has now been declared in Victoria.

The number of people missing in the bushfire-affected communities of the East Gippsland region has risen from 17 overnight to 30.

Another person has been confirmed dead, taking the death toll in the state to two.

Buchan resident Mick Roberts was found dead at his home. The identity of the second fatality isn’t yet known, but it’s believed the man suffered a medical episode while fighting the fires.

As authorities search for those still missing, residents in the East Gippsland and Alpine areas have been urged to leave now ahead of the weekend. They’re being told they have a “small window of opportunity” to get out.

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About 24 communities are isolated and reaching them to deliver supplies has been difficult.

A huge rescue operation is underway at Mallacoota, where thousands are stranded.

1000 were evacuated by sea this morning by the army, but there are still 3000 to go. Every half an hour a group are shipped out to a bigger vessel offshore.

180 fire crews from the US and Canada are on their way to Victoria to help exhausted crews.

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Here is what it looked like in Mallacotta over New Year:

We’re being told the conditions will be even worse than this tomorrow.

NSW South Coast.

A State of Emergency has been announced for the state from today and for the next seven days.

Over the past few days, eight lives and around 400 homes have been lost in NSW alone, with the latest death confirmed this morning.

A 72-year-old man’s body was found in Belowra.

On New Year’s Eve a father and son who were killed at Cabargo trying to save their property from the flames.

Patrick Salway’s wife posted emotionally on Facebook after the death of both her beloved husband and father-in-law.

Volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul, 28, died after his truck flipped near the NSW-Victoria border on December 30. His wife is four months pregnant with their first child.

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Communities in the area are still in immediate danger and crisis.

Phones remain cut across sections of the region and people are struggling to communicate with the outside world – even to just get the latest information on the fire risk.

At least 40 power poles have been destroyed, as have conductors. As NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons explained, “it’s not just about rocking up with a generator and plugging it in,” adding that there were “three big issues: power, communications and food.”

Kosciuszko National Park has now been evacuated due to fire threat and new communities like Batlow are under threat – locals there have been told their town will not be defendable.

The Dunns Road fire, which is threatening the town, is also threatening a nearby prison, after burning through 130,000 hectares in recent days.

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The humanitarian crisis.

Thousands remain stranded in towns on the south coast of New South Wales and in Victoria with food and water supply now becoming an issue.

Fire-hit communities stretching from Nowra in NSW to Mallacoota in Victoria’s East Gippsland region are fast running out of essentials as authorities race to try and evacuate everyone before the fire threats once against rise to catastrophic on the weekend.

9News has reporters on the ground and says in some areas the situation is getting “increasingly desperate” because “everything is running out.”

“We’ve been lucky because we’ve been with families who have been looking after us. But that is all coming to an end and we need food,” local Ron Coote told Today.

“The shops have nothing. There is no water on the shelves.”

The queues for everything from the payphone to the supermarket snake down the street, everyone after the same things.

The countdown to a horror Saturday.

There are almost 30 road closures in the region south of NSW. Of the few roads that are open, the traffic is bumper to bumper as holidaymakers and locals try to flee ahead of the weekend.

Saturday is when extreme fire danger is predicted to return to the region. NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says the conditions are predicted to be worse than New Year’s Eve.

“We’re expecting to see temperatures up into the high 40s, a westerly-northwesterly wind pattern will dominate which means it’ll bring very hot, very dry air across the region,” he said.

“That’s going to result in some fairly widespread severe and more importantly, extreme fire danger ratings across this already heavily fire-affected area,” he added.

The RFS  has warned those planning to travel to the south coast to cancel their trip. A “tourist leave zone” has been established from Batemans Bay to the Victorian border, which is an area about 200km in length.

The Prime Minister’s response.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for patience amidst the current crisis and today visited the devastated NSW town of Cobargo where he received an icy reception.

One woman told him she wasn’t going to shake his hand until he gave them more help, and a local firefighter also refused his hand when he reached for it.

“Whether they’re angry with me or they’re angry with the situation, they’re hurting,” Scott Morrison later said during an interview on 3AW.

“And it’s my job to offer comfort and support. I don’t take it personally.”

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NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance also had his electorate of Bega visited by the Prime Minister but told reporters, “I haven’t had a call from him so to be honest with you the locals probably gave him the welcome he deserved.”

“I’d say this to the Prime Minister today: the nation wants you to open up the cheque books.

“I know this is tough and I know I’m on his side of politics. But the only two people who are providing leadership at this stage are (NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner) Shane Fitzsimmons and (NSW premier) Gladys Berejiklian,” said Constance.

“My simple request is to be patient, to have confidence in the state agencies. I understand the anxiety and I understand the fear that is there for many and I understand the frustration, but this is a natural disaster,” Morrison told reporters yesterday.

He pointed to the government’s existing efforts including disaster relief payments and the deployment of defence personnel as the actions they were taking to help during the fires.

“What you cannot have in these situations is governments stepping over the top of each other in responding to a natural disaster like this. What we are saying is that we cannot control the natural disaster but what we can do is control our response,” he said.

There are more than 140 bushfires burning in NSW, 40 in Victoria, 20 in South Australia, seven in Queensland, 40 in Western Australia and 30 in Tasmania.

The federal minister for emergency management has defended what’s been called a “slow response” to the crisis.

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Speaking on Today, David Littleproud said, “we don’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction and get people in there and put people in harm’s way.”

“We’ve got to be calm and methodical,” he added, pointing out that the smoke was hampering their efforts with air support to areas in danger.

Australians were critical of the Prime Minister’s movements on New Year’s Day as well with many comparing the Prime Minister’s meeting and photo opp with our Aussie cricketers to the response from the Victorian Premier who has been photographed on the front line with survivors and in the thick of it with authorities.

On New Year’s Day, Prime Minister Morrison acknowledged at a reception that the fires were “a time of great challenge for Australia”, but deflected debate about the underlying cause of the fires (that being climate change), and instead focused on the nation’s resilience.

“That is the spirit of Australians, that is the spirit that is on display, that is a spirit that we can celebrate as Australians,” he said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has today announced she will be sending another 22 firefighters to our shores, writing on Instagram, “Australia stood by us through some horrific moments in 2019, and we’re here to do the same.”

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How can you help?

The best way to help is cash.

If you’d like to donate money, head to places like the Salvation Army, the Australian Red Cross or any of the state-based fire brigades like the NSW RFS.

Charities are asking for people to pause before trying to donate “things.” There are lists of wanted items on charity organisation websites for clothing/food/essentials. We’re being urged to check what’s needed before sending.

As Givit told the ABC, they’ve had to plead for people not to drop or send donations to affected areas, because it’s actually hindering not helping.

For more on how to help the firefighters specifically, we’ve done a full post here.

For creative different ways to lend a hand, there are plenty of ideas here.

… And there’s more.

Mamamia Out Loud, our bi-weekly podcast, is coming to Melbourne for a live show, with 100 per cent of all ticket proceeds going to the Australian Red Cross disaster relief and recovery fund.

It’s a brand new show, full of laughs and news and opinions and a few special surprises, with Mia Freedman, Holly Wainwright and Jessie Stephens, on February the 11th. You can buy tickets right now at mamamia.com.au/events. See you there! 

With AAP.

Feature image: Twitter @ShaneMallardMP/Seven.

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