Escape from hell: Go now or you may die

 

The biggest evacuation in Australia's history is underway with thousands ordered out of entire towns, national parks and south coast holiday hamlets that are in the path of a "firestorm."

Residents in towns in the Kosciuszko National Park, including Thredbo, and in Batlow and surrounding areas in the Riverina joined the exodus amid warnings it was not "if but when" the inferno hits.

Laura Langmead holds a breathing mask onto her one-year-old daughter Evie’s face, as she tried to keep her calm amid the smoke in Mallacoota. Picture: David Caird
Laura Langmead holds a breathing mask onto her one-year-old daughter Evie’s face, as she tried to keep her calm amid the smoke in Mallacoota. Picture: David Caird

Parks authorities said the order to evacuate the Snowy Mountain towns was "an essential measure to protect life''.

Tourists in the Shoalhaven were also ordered to leave by this morning, joining those from Batemans Bay to the Victorian border who began a mass exodus on Thursday.

The Princes Highway was opened late on Wednesday for what was supposed to be a 24-hour window to get tourists on the state's south coast to safety but it turned into a highway from hell for tired families after two fires closed a major stretch north of Batemans Bay through the Shoalhaven for much of the day.

Gracie Sunderland, 13, with her 13-week-old puppy Blue evacuating their home at Fairheaven, north of Bermagui, before the fires flare-up on Saturday. Picture: Gary Ramage
Gracie Sunderland, 13, with her 13-week-old puppy Blue evacuating their home at Fairheaven, north of Bermagui, before the fires flare-up on Saturday. Picture: Gary Ramage

Prime Minister Scott Morrison appealed for patience as authorities undertook the unprecedented evacuation which eclipsed the movement of people out of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy in 1974.

"As we work through those evacuations, (we ask) that people continue to remain patient and remain calm and to follow instruction," Mr Morrison said.

"I know you can have kids in the car and there is anxiety and there is stress and the traffic is not moving quickly but the best thing to do - the best thing that helps those out there volunteering, out there trying to restore some order to these situations - is for everyone to be patient."

 

 

Mr Morrison was last night heckled by angry Cobargo fire victims who questioned why they had only four trucks to protect their devastated town and said they had been forgotten in the aftermath. "We need more help," a woman pleaded as she refused to shake the Prime Minister's hand.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared the bushfire season's third State of Emergency and a two-day total fire ban from Friday.

"All our personnel, all our agencies know that from (Friday) they will be subject to forced evacuations, road closures, road openings and anything else we need to do as a state to keep our residents and to keep property safe," Ms Berejiklian said.

"We don't take these decisions lightly."

Naomi Lavery from Orange slept while waiting in a 1000m queue for petrol at Bermagui. Picture: Gary Ramage
Naomi Lavery from Orange slept while waiting in a 1000m queue for petrol at Bermagui. Picture: Gary Ramage

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the New Year's Eve fires that decimated south coast towns had exceeded all predictions and tomorrow could be worse.

He said they had re-run the modelling of the fires and come up with the "worst case scenario" for tomorrow with the fire ground sweeping east from the alpine regions towards the coast fanned by winds up to 60km/h.

Families like the Guerans didn't even try to leave. With no fuel and worried how he would feed his six children, Brent Gueran, 30, pitched two tents at Batemans Bay evacuation centre and stayed put.

"Everyone is trying to get out at once. That's the problem," the tradie, who had already been evacuated from fire-ravaged Malua Bay where 40 homes were lost, said.

"We can't leave - two or three of our cars are a quarter of a tank, so taking the risk to go and find a servo and get out of town is just not worth it.

"We've got to stay strong for the kids … it's full on, that's why we've got two tents. The older kids know what's going on, but the little ones think we're camping."

Phil Costello, who owns the surf shop in Bermagui, siphoning fuel from a Mitre 10 ute so the owner of the hardware store could evacuating in her own car. Picture: Gary Ramage
Phil Costello, who owns the surf shop in Bermagui, siphoning fuel from a Mitre 10 ute so the owner of the hardware store could evacuating in her own car. Picture: Gary Ramage

At Lake Conjola, where 89 homes were lost on Tuesday, families waited in queues of up to six hours just to get escorted along the fire-blackened Entrance Road to the highway.

When The Daily Telegraph spoke to tourists Zachary Van Akker, 23, his wife Shanae, son Charlie, five, and daughter Ava, 10, months, they had waited with their caravan hooked up for three hours.

"It hasn't been great but other people have had it worse. There was a woman who just got through who had been waiting for six hours," Mr Van Akker said.

They had been left without food, water or power.

"Luckily everyone has been generous otherwise we would have been in trouble. The community down here has really looked out for each other," Ms Van Akker said.

Alison Dahl and her two-year-old daughter Nova preparing to leave Narooma. Picture: Gary Ramage
Alison Dahl and her two-year-old daughter Nova preparing to leave Narooma. Picture: Gary Ramage

It was the same story right along the highway from the state's Victorian border to Nowra where the bumper-to-bumper escape was hampered by the road closures.

In towns, there were long lines for petrol while the shelves of supermarkets that managed to open were stripped of groceries which could only be paid for with cash.

Bunnings at Ulladulla ran out of candles, torches, eskies and generators.

Just south of the NSW border, HMAS Choules was ready to evacuate up to 1000 of the 4000 people stranded in Mallacoota with the only road in and out impassable.

Laura Langmead and husband Nyall were sitting tight in Mallacoota with their children Mack, 3, and Evie, 1.

"It is hard getting information and we are all sort of in limbo," Mrs Langmead said.

"My son was up all night being sick. The smoke is really bad. We need water. We are just trying to keep the kids happy and occupied."

Emptying shelves at Coles in Batemans Bay Picture: John Grainger
Emptying shelves at Coles in Batemans Bay Picture: John Grainger

Batlow and Tumbarumba were ghost towns on Thursday as residents evacuated to Wagga Wagga with homes already lost at Laurel Hill, 14km outside Batlow.

Property owner in the apple town Anne Hallard said they were told at a 2pm meeting yesterday at the RSL Club to be out by noon today at the latest.

Helicopters flew over Kosciuszko National Park to warn hikers as locals as well as visitors were ordered out.

Since July, at least 15 people have died and almost 1300 homes have been destroyed by bushfires in NSW.

Batemans Bay locals Helen Byrne and children Sam, 7, and Emily, 4, shopped among what groceries were left in the town’s Coles supermarket. Picture: John Grainger
Batemans Bay locals Helen Byrne and children Sam, 7, and Emily, 4, shopped among what groceries were left in the town’s Coles supermarket. Picture: John Grainger
Gracie Sunderland, 13, with her 13-week-old puppy Blue evacuating their home at Fairheaven, north of Bermagui, before the fires flare-up on Saturday. Picture: Gary Ramage
Gracie Sunderland, 13, with her 13-week-old puppy Blue evacuating their home at Fairheaven, north of Bermagui, before the fires flare-up on Saturday. Picture: Gary Ramage
Mark Hearn from Melbourne had been at his in-laws home at Bermagui since December 17 and his battery went flat while waiting to refill before evacuating. Picture: Gary Ramage
Mark Hearn from Melbourne had been at his in-laws home at Bermagui since December 17 and his battery went flat while waiting to refill before evacuating. Picture: Gary Ramage
Melbourne arborist Jake Nyhouse, 25, was left in Narooma because he couldn’t get diesel and his mates drove off in cars fuelled by unleaded. Picture: Gary Ramage
Melbourne arborist Jake Nyhouse, 25, was left in Narooma because he couldn’t get diesel and his mates drove off in cars fuelled by unleaded. Picture: Gary Ramage
Queuing traffic heading north from Batemans Bay on the Princes Hwy. Picture: John Grainger
Queuing traffic heading north from Batemans Bay on the Princes Hwy. Picture: John Grainger

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