Australia

Australia bushfires: Fundraiser reaches A$20m in 48 hours

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Media captionThe BBC's Phil Mercer says Kangaroo Valley has "a horrible, ghostly feel"

A fundraiser for fire services in New South Wales, Australia has raised more than A$20 million (£10.6m; $13m) in just 48 hours, as the state battles a bushfire crisis.

Australian comedian Celeste Barber launched the Facebook appeal on Friday, writing: "Please help any way you can. This is terrifying."

At least 24 people have died since the fires began in September.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called up 3,000 reserve troops to help.

In Canberra, the air quality has been ranked as the worst in the world, and residents have been told to avoid leaving their homes.

Australian airline Qantas has cancelled flights to and from the city for the remainder of Sunday.

An 'incredible' response

Comedian Ms Barber has family who were evacuated from the town of Eden in New South Wales, where officials told residents to leave immediately and head north if they did not have a bushfire response plan.

She called the rush of donations "incredible", and said the proceeds would go to NSW Rural Fire Service - a government-funded agency staffed by volunteers - and the Brigades Donations Fund, which channels charitable donations directly to fire brigades.

A number of celebrities have also donated money to support the fire-fighting effort in recent days - among them US singer Pink, and Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman, who pledged $500,000.

News of the donations was praised by Australians on social media, but some lamented that private citizens were raising funds they said should have been put in place by the government.

Almost 200 fires are still burning across the country. Although much attention has centred on worst-hit NSW, every state and territory has been affected. More than 1,200 homes have been destroyed and millions of hectares of land scorched.

Tens of thousands of homes in NSW and Victoria states are currently without power. Thousands of people have been evacuated from coastal towns over the past week.

The NSW town of Cooma suffered a further blow on Saturday night when a large tower carrying millions of litres of water exploded, flooding homes and sweeping away vehicles.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro told ABC News the incident was a "massive disaster....on the back of a crisis and the threat of fires".

Image copyright AUSTRALIAN DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE
Image caption In some areas, helicopters have been brought in to help evacuate people

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has cancelled a planned visit to India scheduled for 13 January due to the crisis, said on Sunday that he had established a National Bushfire Recovery Agency to co-ordinate recovery efforts.

The body will help bushfire-hit communities recover, media reports said, through work ranging from rebuilding infrastructure to providing mental health support.

Mr Morrison, who has faced stinging criticism for his handling of the fires, promised the organisation "will be stood up for at least two years".

But he could not escape further condemnation on Sunday, as the head of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service revealed he had only learned of the plan to call up reserve troops through the media.

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Media captionThe BBC's Phil Mercer witnessed a dust storm "coming towards us like a monster"

Singapore and Papua New Guinea have offered military support to Australia, while New Zealand is sending an additional three Air Force helicopters.

Sunday is expected to be cooler across the country's south-east, with some rain predicted. Fire officials have warned that the next major risks will come next week.


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