Mallacoota evacuation about to begin

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Victorians in the state’s worst-hit bushfire regions are being urged to leave as conditions are expected to deteriorate from Friday.

Australian Defence Force recovery craft was filmed making land this morning at Mallacoota on Victoria’s east coast near the border with NSW, to help about 1000 people evacuate.

The East Gippsland region was ravaged by bushfires on New Years Eve trapping about 4000 people in the remote coastal town.

Naval ship HMAS Choules, which has the capacity to carry 700 troops, has docked in waters off the coast of the Victorian town and was expected to take up to 800 people. Premier Daniel Andrews said there could be “multiple trips”. 

The journey to the closest port will take 16 to 17 hours and the boat will return for a “second load” if more than 1000 people register as evacuees, the Royal Australian Navy has advised.

Some locals were seen “sobbing and hugging” as they were asked to make a choice between evacuating or potentially being stuck for weeks in the town as bushfires continue to rage.

Victorians in the state’s worst-hit bushfire regions are being urged to leave as conditions are expected to deteriorate from Friday, amid news a second man has died in the blazes.

Premier Andrews confirmed Thursday night that a second person had died in the East Gippsland region, but could not reveal the man’s identity.

Victoria Police said the man’s body was found at a property in Maramingo Creek, near Genoa, by family on Wednesday evening.

“It is believed the man suffered a medical episode while fighting the fires,” they said in a statement.

Earlier on Wednesday, family members confirmed that Buchan man Mick Roberts had died at his home.

Another 17 people remain missing in East Gippsland, none of whom are emergency services personnel.

A state of disaster has been declared for six local government areas and three alpine resorts confronted by fires.

The declaration entails powers introduced in the aftermath of devastating 2009 blazes which have never been used before, including compelling people to evacuate.

Mr Andrews said they will send a powerful message to people in fire areas. “If you can leave, you must leave. If you don’t, we simply cannot guarantee your safety,” he said.

Areas covered by the declaration, which has been made for seven days, are East Gippsland Shire, Mansfield Shire, Wellington Shire, Wangaratta Rural Shire, Towong Shire and Alpine Shire.

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