Australian bushfires produce devastation and compassion

By Agencies
February 11, 2009

Churches of all denominations across Australia have initiated prayers and practical support for bushfire victims in Victoria, where some 200 people have died - as the state attempts to come to terms with the deadliest bushfire disaster in Australian history.

The Kinglake region, north-east of Melbourne, remains the worst affected, losing more than 550 homes. Towns such as Marysville, have been burnt to the ground, with more than 750 homes across the state now confirmed destroyed.

A recent change in the weather has helped firefighters, with Victorian fire authorities saying they were focusing on protecting buildings overnight as conditions remain favourable.

A number of churches have been destroyed, reports CathNews ( Marysville and Buxton Catholic churches have been destroyed. The Anglican church at Kinglake was also burned to the ground.

"It's devastating, it's unbelievable... it's just carnage," Kinglake Anglican priest Stephen Holmes said.

The Uniting Church at Kinglake survived. The fate of the Marysville church is unknown but presumed grim. "We lost church members, which is worse," said the Uniting Church's Victorian media director, Kim Cain.

Pope Benedict XVI has sent condolences to all the victims and families of all those affected by the Victorian bushfires that claimed over 200 lives and released the energy equivalent of 500 Hiroshima nuclear bombs.

Melbourne Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart declared: "Like all Victorians, I am deeply shocked by the loss of life, My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones and those victims who are now in our hospitals."

He added: "I hold the greatest admiration for the courage and dedication of all the emergency services personnel,community workers and those in government who have worked so hard to protect the community. I pray for their safety as they work to bring the fires under control.

"I know many in the community feel a sense of powerlessness in the face of this crisis. I encourage the community to give blood and to respond generously to the appeals that have been established to assist fellow Victorians and communities to recover and rebuild their lives."

The archbishop said his church and others stand in solidarity with the community ready to assist in whatever way they can.

Darwin's Christchurch Anglican Cathedral has already launched prayers for the whole of the week and other churches are expected to take similar initiatives.

Melbourne University fire ecologist, Dr Kevin Tolhurst, told the Herald Sun the fires were so hot the energy they released could have supplied Victoria with electricity for at least two years.

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