WHITTLESEA, Australia – The death toll from Australia's wildfires has risen to 128, and authorities said they expect the number to go higher.
Authorities counted more victims overnight as they reached further into a huge zone scorched by blazes that ripped across southeastern Victoria state over the weekend.
Victoria police spokeswoman Marika Sengler said the confirmed death toll on Monday afternoon was 128.
At least 750 homes were destroyed in the fires that in some cases razed entire towns.
Officials say they expect the toll to go higher as investigators move into areas not yet reached.
Australia's previous deadliest fires were in 1983, when blazes killed 75 people and destroyed more than 3,000 homes in Victoria and South Australia.
(@ 12.15pm )
Monday, February 09, 2009
06:31 Mecca time, 03:31 GMT
The toll from the fires in the country's southeast hit 128 early on Monday as Kevin Rudd said he feared the "numbing" number would rise further.
"This is of a level of horror that few of us anticipated. There are no words to describe it other than mass murder," Rudd told Australian television.
Some of the fires eased on Monday but thousands of firefighters and soldiers continued to battle dozens of blazes across an area of about 3,000 sq km across the states of Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales.
The authorities expect the toll to rise as they search for scores of missing in more than 750 burnt-out homes and completely destroyed towns.
Chris Harvey, a survivor of a massive fire that tore through several small towns north of Melbourne on Saturday night, told local media that it was a "most horrible day".
"It's going to look like Hiroshima, I tell you. It's going to look like a nuclear bomb," he said.
Meanwhile, in sharp contrast to the fires in the country's southeast, much of the northern state of Queensland was flooded and has been declared a disaster zone.
Sunday, February 08, 2009
15:38 Mecca time, 12:38 GMT
Heavy rains that have left at least eight people dead in the Solomon Islands are set to drench Australia's Queensland state, which has already been hit by severe flooding.
Australia's weather bureau said a downgraded tropical cyclone now over the Gulf of Carpentaria, northwest of Queensland, could form again and that another low pressure system to the north could develop into a cyclone within 48 hours.
The warnings come as river levels in some parts of Queensland began to fall on Thursday, allowing emergency workers to reach people left stranded by floods.
Residents trying to clean up from weeks of rain were warned to beware of crocodiles washed up from swollen rivers and snakes roaming flooded streets and yards.
More than 60 per cent of Queensland has been declared a disaster area with flooding affecting almost 3,000 homes.
The government has called in the army to help with rescue and recovery efforts