The crisis in Australia is worsening as unprecedented bushfires cut thousands of people off from food, water, and fuel. It’s a new year, but not a happy one.
Massive queues have formed outside supermarkets along New South Wales’ south coast, hundreds of people lining up for three hours in the summer heat to purchase much needed supplies. Shelves are emptying quickly as panicked crowds buy up food and water, with stores struggling to restock.
“We’re working hard to keep stores on the South Coast replenished with key essentials for the local community,” Australian supermarket chain Woolworths wrote via Twitter on Tuesday morning local time. “All stores are currently open for trading with only our Bermagui store set to close at midday due to the planned evacuation of the town.”
Gas stations are also being inundated with cars trying to fill up so they can evacuate. Unfortunately, in addition to a dwindling supplies, some of these stores and gas stations have also lost power.
“We’re trying to get out of here as the authorities want us to leave,” Tracey Feeney told ABC News. Feeney had been holidaying in the NSW town of Batemans Bay, where hundreds of people fled to the beach to escape the fire on New Year’s Eve. “So we’re just waiting for all their garages to open up, they’ve apparently got no power still.”
The NSW Royal Fire Service has warned tourists along a 110 mile costal stretch to get out before the weekend hits, as firefighters prepare for conditions to worsen on Saturday.
Road closures have heavily impacted evacuation efforts, with most escape routes overrun by fire.
Both electricity and telecommunications are down across several affected areas after at least 40 power poles were destroyed by the fires, in an outage expected to last for days. Approximately 46,000 people in NSW were left without phone or internet access, making it difficult for evacuees to check fire warnings and contact their families.
Many have begun to queue for pay phones as they flee the fires.
People in the state of Victoria are also struggling to stay ahead of the fires. On New Year’s Eve, 4,000 people in the costal town of Mallacoota gathered by the ocean, ready to jump into the water as the flames approached.
“We do not anticipate that the Princes Highway will be reopened for some weeks. This means that is unlikely people will not be able to leave via road for some time,” wrote emergency information website VicEmergency in a Dec. 2 update.
“This also means that essential services are unlikely to be reconnected in the short term and it means that provision of food, water and fuel will remain compromised and are likely to represent a public health risk to the population.”
Eighteen people have died in Australia’s bushfires, with seven dead in New South Wales since Monday. More are missing, and the death toll is expected to rise. Approximately 1,400 homes have been confirmed destroyed across the country, with 11 million acres burned. Ecologists estimate 480 million animals have died.
Though Australia does experience bushfires every year, there have been none on this scale in recorded history. Many Australians blame the deadly fire conditions on climate change, with drought, strong winds, and a record-breaking heatwave stoking the flames.