Tens of thousands of holidaymakers raced to evacuate popular seaside towns on Australia’s east coast Thursday, fleeing ahead of advancing bushfires, as military ships and helicopters began rescuing thousands more trapped by the blazes..
Fueled by searing temperatures and high winds, more than 200 fires are now burning across the southeastern states of New South Wales and Victoria, threatening several towns.
Long lines formed outside supermarkets and gas stations near high-danger areas, and shelves were emptied of staples like bread and milk, as residents and tourists sought supplies to either bunker down or escape.
More than 50,000 people were without power and some towns had no access to drinking water, after catastrophic fires ripped through the region over the past few days, sending the sky blood red and destroying towns.
Authorities urged a mass exodus from several towns on Australia’s southeast coast, an area hugely popular in the current summer peak holiday season, warning that extreme heat forecast for the weekend will further stoke raging fires.
“The priority today is fighting fires and evacuating, getting people to safety,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney. “There are parts of both Victoria and New South Wales which have been completely devastated, with a loss of power and communications.”
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