MANILA, Philippines – Raging bushfires in Australia have caused the evacuation of at least 300 Filipinos residing in East Gippsland, Victoria, according to Philippine Embassy in Canberra First Secretary and Consul General Aian Caringal.
"Three hundred Filipinos are already being attended to by the local government and have been given temporary housing and emergency relief," Caringal said in an interview with ABS-CBN Sunday night, January 5, adding that the Filipinos were evacuated to the nearby city of Bairnsdale.
Caringal said the evacuations were carried out as a precautionary measure, after two houses belonging to Filipino residents were among the 1,500 damaged by bushfires in the area.
What's happening in Australia? Catastrophic bushfires have ripped through swaths of Australia since September 2019, burning land roughly double the size of Belgium and causing thousands to flee from their homes.
The Australian government, Caringal said, reported the long-running crisis has escalated to "entirely new levels," with 24 people killed so far.
The country's military has been deployed to assist volunteers in containing fires and evacuate residents in hard-hit areas. A state of emergency has been declared across much of Australia's heavily populated southeast, and more than 100,000 people have been told to leave their homes across 3 states.
Ecologists feared months of deadly bushfires may have also pushed several species to extinction, with millions of animals burned in the fires.
Preparing for the worst: Caringal gave assurances the Department of Foreign Affairs was ready to repatriate Filipinos living and working in Australia if conditions worsen. So far, the Philippine embassy has not received any reports requesting for repatriation from the estimated 300,000 Filipinos working in Australia.
Caringal advised all Filipinos in the country to continue monitoring the situation in their respective localities and to stay in close coordination with the embassy and local authorities, as well as Filipino associations in their areas.
Reacting to the fires, Foreign Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr lamented the "tragedy of continental proportions," offering assistance to Australia to tackle the bushfires.
"Our hearts go out to Australians," Locsin tweeted on Monday morning, January 6.
The Philippine embassy in Wellington, New Zealand, likewise assured the public it was monitoring the the effect of bushfires, which have caused skies in the country to turn yellow. The embassy advised Filipinos with respiratory conditions to stay indoors and to refrain from being distracted by the occurrence when driving.
Any Filipino in New Zealand needing assistance relating to the Australia bushfires can contact the embassy at email@example.com. – Rappler.com