Near Jindabyne in New South Wales (Australia), January 4, 2020. (S. Khan / AFP) - AFP

The exodus in the face of disaster. Tens of thousands of Australians evacuated their homes this Saturday to flee the forest fires ravaging the country. Fires that continue as temperatures exceed 40 ° C and strong winds blow, fueling hundreds of fires. "Compared to the (worst-case) predictions we made this morning, unfortunately, they are coming true," said Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of New South Wales. "These strong winds and high temperatures" should continue into the evening, said the state fire chief.

Sydney recorded record temperatures on Saturday, with 48.1 ° C recorded in Penrith, in the western suburbs of Australia's most populous city. In Canberra, the temperature reached 42.9 ° C, an unprecedented figure, said spokesman Australian Weather Services Jonathan How. And in these two cities, temperatures could rise further, he said.

A 15 m high fire barrier

Several warning messages were issued this Saturday across the territory. One of them concerns a fire southwest of Sydney which could reach the outskirts of the megalopolis. A state of emergency was declared in the southeast of the island continent, the most populous region, and orders were given Friday to more than 100,000 people to evacuate to three states. "We have literally seen tens of thousands of people leaving," said the New South Wales fire chief. The highways connecting the coastal cities to Sydney and other major cities were congested by long lines of cars.

In the small seaside town of Mallacoota, the navy evacuated on Friday a thousand inhabitants and tourists surrounded by flames, some of whom had taken refuge on the seafront since New Year's Eve to protect themselves. The first of two military vessels chartered to rescue them arrived near Melbourne on Saturday. Eloise, 26, managed to flee under police escort when she and others had spent four days without electricity, telephone or the Internet. “The flames approached up to 50 meters from us. We had to drive among them because it was the only way to leave, ”she says, describing flames 15 meters high on both sides of the road.

3,000 soldiers as reinforcements

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Saturday called for 3,000 reservists to deploy, an unprecedented mobilization. "It allows for more men on the ground, more planes in the sky, more ships at sea," he said.

Since the start of the fire season in September, 23 people have died in Australia, according to the Prime Minister. Dozens more are missing, and more than 1,500 houses have been reduced to ashes. An area equivalent to twice Belgium or Hawaii burned. The fires were also deadly for wildlife, and destroyed almost all of Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island, which is home to kangaroos and koalas, authorities said on Saturday.


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