Insurers declare catastrophe on Tasmanian fires

Last updated 20:07 05/01/2013

Dozens of homes have been destroyed by bushfires in the Australian island state of Tasmania. Paul Chapman reports.

Tasmaniabush fire
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The settlement of Dunalley, about 40 kilometres east of Hobart, was one of the worst hit by the Tasmanian bush fires.

SlideshowDunalley, Tasmania


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Insurers have declared the bushfire-hit towns of southern Tasmania a catastrophe.

Fires have destroyed dozens of buildings across the Tasman Peninsula, east of Hobart, spurred on by record high temperatures.

With fires still threatening homes in the region on Saturday, the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) declared the affected towns a catastrophe, and created an industry task force to respond to the damage.

The declaration includes the towns of Dunalley and Connellys Marsh, as well as Forcett, Copping, Murdunna, Boomer Bay, Primrose Sands, Susans Bay, Eaglehawk Neck and Taranna.

 

ICA chief executive Rob Whelan said it was too early to have an accurate estimate of the total cost of the disaster.

"The ICA is liaising with the Tasmanian government, the Tasmanian Fire Service, State Emergency Service and local governments to get a more accurate assessment," he said on Saturday.

Whelan said a team would likely be sent to community shelters to provide victims with information about their insurance policies.

EMERGENCY ALERT

The Tasmania Fire Service has again upgraded a bushfire burning at Forcett southeast of Hobart to emergency warning level. It says a large, uncontrolled bushfire is burning between Forcett and the Tasman Peninsula.

The community of Taranna is being impacted and residents are being told it is too late to leave and they should go to a nearby safer place.

The fire has spread south of Murdunna, has spotted as far as Taranna and still has active fire edges back to Forcett and Dodges Ferry.

Smoke, embers and ash could fall on the entire Tasman Peninsula. The Arthur Highway from Old Forcett Road to Eaglehawk Neck , Fulham Road, Sugarloaf Road and Carlton River Road are all closed.

NEW ALERTS FOR SUBURBS

The Tasmanian Fire Service has issued a bushfire emergency warning for a large bushfire burning at the Tasman Highway near the east coast town of Bicheno.

The fire is expected to put the area of Coles Bay Road south of Apsley River as well as Tasman Highway south of Tower Hill at high risk on Saturday afternoon.

Friendly Beaches Road, Courland Bay Road, Tower Hill Fire Trail, Harveys Farm Road, Coles Bay Road are all closed to inward traffic. The Tasman Highway is closed from the Coles Bay turnoff to Bicheno.

Residents are being told to activate their bushfire plans as it is likely to be too late to leave.

Meanwhile, another bushfire is causing concern at Montumana and communities at Speedwell Road, Gilmore Property, Coopers Road are being advised to activate their bushfire plans.

Four major fires are burning out of control and threatening communities along the east coast and central Tasmania, with thousands of people stranded as roads are cut off.

Up to 77 fire crews are fighting the blazes. Up to 1000 people were reported to have been rescued from beaches by boats overnight but police could not confirm the number.

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the federal government is working with local and state authorities to support communities affected by bushfires across Tasmania.

When asked if the federal government would provide financial assistance to victims, Ms Gillard said the main focus was combating the blazes.

"We've got very clear arrangements for how local authorities, state authorities and federal authorities work together," she told the Nine Network.

"Unfortunately ... our world has given us the opportunity to test all of this, time and time again ... so we'll keep working to support communities."

She said the focus at the moment was "still fighting the fires".

Ms Gillard said she would like to visit bushfire-ravaged communities but needed to ensure she would not disrupt any emergency efforts.

"I do like to go and visit communities that have been affected by disasters, but you've got to judge the right time ... and you are not in any way disrupting what are immediate efforts to deal with the emergency."

She said it broke her heart when she saw footage of the damage caused by bushfires.

"I'm obviously from Victoria. We saw that huge loss of life in the Victorian bushfires. The destructive power of fires is just so awesome.

"So whenever you see those pictures, whenever you see that kind of loss, it really does touch a chord in you."

Ms Gillard reminded people the extreme heat was widespread across Australia.

"That means there are risks in more areas than Tasmania.

"The best thing people can do is stay in touch with local authorities" and heed local community warnings, she said.

- AAP

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