Death toll in Australian wildfires rises to 108

February 8, 2009 22:50

Entire towns have been seared off the map by wildfires raging through southeastern Australia, burning people in their homes and cars in the deadliest blaze in the country's history. The number of dead Monday stood at 108, a grim toll that rose almost by the hour as officials reached further into the fire zone. Searing temperatures and wind blasts created a firestorm that swept across a swath of the country's Victoria state, where at least 700 homes were destroyed and all of the victims died. More victims were expected to be found, officials said. "Hell in all its fury has visited the good people of Victoria," Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said. "It's an appalling tragedy for the nation." The skies rained ash and trees exploded in the inferno, witnesses said, as temperatures of up 117 F (47 C) combined with blasting winds to create furnace-like conditions. The town of Marysville and several hamlets in the Kinglake district, both about 50 miles (100 kilometers) north of Melbourne, were utterly devastated.

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