Australia bushfires: State of emergency declared as ‘catastrophic’ blazes threaten Sydney

Nation’s deputy prime minister says now not the time for climate change debate

Vincent Wood
Monday 11 November 2019 10:39
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Australian state declares emergency as wildfires continue to rage

Two Australian provinces have declared states of emergency as more than 120 bushfires are expected to grow, putting schools and homes in the Sydney suburbs at risk.

Three people have died and thousands have been displaced by the blazes so far as they approach population hubs across the east coast.

In New South Wales (NSW) fires have ravaged almost a million hectares of land while destroying 150 homes, and nine houses have been burnt to the ground in Queensland.

Now officials have declared a state of emergency in both of the highly populated states amid concerns that high temperatures around Sydney on Tuesday could bring renewed danger.

Gladys Berejiklian, head of the NSW state government, said: “The catastrophic weather conditions mean that things can change very quickly.”

She said that the last time a state of emergency was declared in the region was in 2013, when extensive blazes tore through the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney.

She added: “Everybody has to be on alert no matter where you are and everybody has to assume the worst. We cannot allow complacency to creep in.”

Nearly 500 schools are expected to be closed in the suburbs of Sydney and across New South Wales on Tuesday as the nation’s department of education advises a “cautious” approach to the spread of fires.

“We think it’s much better to be cautious now … rather than trying to evacuate potentially hundreds of school students in emergency situations,” education minister Sarah Mitchell told local media.

The spread is also taking its toll on wildlife in the region, with experts estimating at least half of the koalas living on a coastal reserve in New South Wales have been wiped out by bushfires.

Prime minister Scott Morrison tweeted: “I welcome the announcement a state of emergency has been declared in NSW. Catastrophic fire danger is forecast for the Greater Sydney & Hunter areas tomorrow.

“Stay updated on fires in your area & emergency services are advising if you’re in a danger zone, leaving early is best.”

It comes as the prime minister faces criticism for admitting he was yet to consider whether the unprecedented fires were caused by climate change

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Mr Morrison, who oversees the world’s largest coal exporting nation, has come under increasing scrutiny for his approach to climate issues after announcing his opposition to environmental activists earlier this month.

The Australian Green Party’s climate spokesman, Adam Bandt, said: “Scott Morrison has not got the climate crisis under control. Unless we lead a global effort to quit coal & cut pollution, more lives will be lost.”

Mr Morrison’s deputy Michael McCormack said now was not the time for political debate on climate change.

“What people need now is a little bit of sensitivity, understanding and real assistance. They need help; they need shelter” he said. “They don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time.”

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