Aus­tralians jeer PM on visit to zone rav­aged by wild­fires

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLS - By Tris­tan Lavalette

PERTH, Aus­tralia — Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son was con­fronted by an­gry res­i­dents who cursed and insulted him Thurs­day as he vis­ited a wild­fir­erav­aged cor­ner of the coun­try.

Lo­cals in Co­bargo, in New South Wales, yelled at him, made ob­scene ges­tures and called him an “idiot” and worse, crit­i­ciz­ing him for the lack of equip­ment to deal with the fires in town. They jeered as his car left.

In the New South Wales town of Quaama, a fire­fighter re­fused to shake hands with him.

“Ev­ery sin­gle time this area has a flood or a fire, we get noth­ing. If we were Syd­ney, if we were north coast, we would be flooded with do­na­tions with ur­gent emer­gency re­lief,” a res­i­dent said in Co­bargo.

The out­pour­ing of anger came as author­i­ties said 381 homes had been de­stroyed on the New South Wales south­ern coast this week. At least eight peo­ple have died this week in New South Wales and the neigh­bor­ing state of Vic­to­ria.

More than 200 fires are burn­ing in Aus­tralia’s two most-pop­u­lous states. Blazes have also been burn­ing in West­ern Aus­tralia, South Aus­tralia and Tas­ma­nia.

“I’m not sur­prised peo­ple are feel­ing very raw at the mo­ment. And that’s why I came to­day, to be here, to see it for my­self, to of­fer what com­fort I could,” Mor­ri­son said, adding, “There is still, you know, some very dan­ger­ous days ahead. And we un­der­stand that, and that’s why we’re go­ing to do ev­ery­thing we can to en­sure they have ev­ery sup­port they will need.”

Mor­ri­son, who has also been crit­i­cized over his cli­mate change poli­cies and ac­cused of putting the econ­omy ahead of the en­vi­ron­ment, in­sisted that Aus­tralia is “meet­ing the chal­lenge bet­ter than most coun­tries” and “ex­ceed­ing the tar­gets we set out.”

Cooler weather since Tues­day has aided fire­fight­ing and al­lowed peo­ple to re­plen­ish sup­plies, with long lines of cars form­ing at gas sta­tions and su­per­mar­kets. But high tem­per­a­tures and strong winds are fore­cast to re­turn Satur­day, and thousands of tourists fled the eastern coast Thurs­day ahead of wors­en­ing con­di­tions.

New South Wales author­i­ties or­dered tourists to leave a 155-mile zone. State Trans­port Min­is­ter An­drew Con­stance called it the “largest mass re­lo­ca­tion of peo­ple out of the re­gion that we’ve ever seen.”

New South Wales Premier Gladys Bere­jik­lian de­clared a seven-day state of emer­gency start­ing Fri­day, which grants fire of­fi­cials more author­ity. It’s the third state of emer­gency for New South Wales in the past two months.

The early and dev­as­tat­ing start to Aus­tralia’s sum­mer wild­fires has led author­i­ties to rate this sea­son the worst on record. About 12.35 mil­lion acres of land have burned, at least 17 peo­ple have been killed, and more than 1,400 homes have been de­stroyed.

ROBERT OER­LE­MANS/AP

Boats are pulled ashore Thurs­day as smoke and wild­fires rage be­hind Lake Con­jola, Aus­tralia. Thousands of tourists fled Aus­tralia’s wild­fire-rav­aged eastern coast.

JENNY EVANS/GETTY

Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son: “Peo­ple are feel­ing very raw at the mo­ment.”

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