Wildfires razing Australia's drought-stricken east coast have left three people dead and several missing, more than 30 injured and over 150 homes destroyed, officials said Saturday.
Around 1,500 firefighters were battling more than 70 fires across Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, with the most intense in the northeast, where flames were fanned by strong winds, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
A woman who was found unconscious and with serious burns Friday near Glen Innes died in a hospital, he said.
Vivian Chaplain, a 69-year-old mother of two and grandmother of six, was alone in her house in the small community of Wytaliba when it was engulfed in flames, her daughter-in-law Chrystal Harwood said.
"I was the last one to speak to her. She was in an absolute panic. She said: 'We're on fire. There's fire everywhere. I need the boys here now,'" Harwood said of their final phone call.
"Before I even got to tell her to just get out, she'd hung up on me. I couldn't get back through to her. I tried so many times," Harwood added. "She was amazing. She was such a strong, loving woman."
On Friday, Harwood made a desperate plea on social media for someone to come to Chaplain's rescue.
"Viv is alone can someone help, anyone please ... boys are on the way down if they can get through," Harwood posted. "'The RFS can't get to her they are trying ... the road down is a tunnel of fire."
Firefighters found another body on Saturday morning in a burned car near Glen Innes, a victim of the same fire, officials said. The local man's name has not been released.
A third body was found Saturday afternoon in a burned house at the village of Johns River, north of Taree, police said.
An autopsy will determine whether the victim is the 63-year-old woman who owns the house, police said.
That victim died in a fire hundreds of kilometers (miles) from Glen Innes.
Another five people remained missing in the vicinity of the Glen Innes fire and authorities held grave fears for their safety, Fitzsimmons said.
Five people are still missing with authorities holding grave fears for their safety, officials said.
More than 30 people including firefighters received medical treatment for burns and smoke inhalation. One patient suffered cardiac arrest, officials said.
At least 150 homes had been destroyed since Friday, and damage assessment teams had yet to reach some devastated areas, officials said.
Hundreds of people evacuated their homes along a 500-kilometer (310-mile) swath of the eastern seaboard from the Queensland state border south to Forster.
Forster is a town 300 kilometers (190 miles) north of Sydney, Australia's largest city. Many spent the night in evacuation centers, while some slept in cars.
In Queensland, around 50 wildfires were raging on Saturday. At least one house was lost, a firefighter suffered a broken leg and 6,000 residents were evacuated from three communities in the state's southeast, police said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned Australia to expect more bad news from the fire zones. His warning came before the third victim was confirmed.
"The devastating and horrific fires that we have seen particularly in New South Wales but also in Queensland have been absolutely chilling," Morrison said.
The Insurance Council of Australia declared the wildfire crisis a "catastrophe," meaning insurance claims will be given priority.
In Taree, more than 300 people evacuated overnight to a social club, including Club Taree's chief executive, Morgan Stewart.
"It was pretty scary," Stewart said. "We're hearing lots of stories of lost houses, lost property, goods and effects, animals, land. It's going to be horrific, I think."
Peter Lean spent the night on the roof of his house in the town of Wallabi Point, using a garden house to extinguish burning embers carried on strong winds.
"I've never seen the sky so red since 2000," Lean said. "We've got winds blowing, they're circling, it's like a cyclone."
The fire danger reached unprecedented levels in New South Wales on Friday, when 17 fires were burning at the most extreme danger rating known as the Emergency Warning Level.
"To have 17 of those fires burning all at the same time across a fairly broad geographic area like the north coast of New South Wales, we simply have not seen that before, that level of intensity," Fitzsimmons said.
Between two and five fires were burning at the highest danger rating during Saturday.
The annual Australian fire season, which peaks during the Southern Hemisphere summer, has started early after an unusually warm and dry winter.
Dozens of guests at a glamorous island resort off Australian east coast have been struct with gastroenteritis, Queensland (QLD) State health authorities have confirmed on Tuesday.
Located near Brisbane, Dr Kari Jarvinen from the Metro South Public Health Unit told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that, initial drinking water testing at Moreton Island's Tangalooma Island Resort revealed the presence of the bacterial infection E.coli.
"Anyone on the resort or anyone who has recently visited the resort should be alert for symptoms of gastro-enteritis and seek medical advice if they have concerns," he said.
"Initial reports to Queensland Health involved 50 cases, however the exact number of people potentially affected is unknown."
"All guests and staff have been advised to boil their drinking water or use commercially supplied bottled water until the issue is resolved."
With management now undergoing "advanced cleaning and sanitisation regimes," a spokeswoman for the luxury getaway said, "we are currently working with both Queensland Health and Queensland Ambulance Service to ascertain the exact numbers of guests and staff who have been affected and have also attempted to contact all guests who have departed the resort over this time."
"Some of our guests and staff have reported illness consistent with nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and a general feeling of being unwell."
Later Tuesday, further testing is expected to be carried out as authorities attempt to discover the exact source of the contamination.
The spokesperson for the Tangalooma Island Resort added, "There have been a number of cases we are aware of where guests have arrived to the resort recently with what appears to be viral infections consistent with Gastroenteritis, that was contracted prior to arrival."
Canberra, Oct 29 (AP/UNB) — A shark bit off a British tourist's foot and mauled another British tourist's leg on Tuesday as the men snorkeled on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, officials said.
The men aged 22 and 28 had been on a snorkeling tour in the Whitsunday Islands when they were attacked, tour organizer ZigZag Whitsundays said.
They were brought 11 kilometers (7 miles) by boat to the mainland town of Airlie Beach where paramedics were waiting for them, Queensland state Ambulance Service spokeswoman Mel Mangan said. They were then flown by helicopter south to a hospital in the city of Mackay in serious but stable conditions, RACQ CQ Rescue said.
"An English tourist has had his foot bitten off and another has serious lacerations to his lower leg after a shark attack in the Whitsundays today," the helicopter rescue service said in a statement.
The victims told the helicopter crew "they were wrestling and thrashing about in the water" in a passage between Hayman and Whitsunday Islands when they were attacked, the statement said.
The 28-year-old man lost his foot, the Mackay Base Hospital said in a statement.
A shark killed a man in November last year in a Whitsunday Island harbor where two tourists had been mauled a month earlier.
The 33-year-old victim had been diving from a paddle board while on a yacht cruise.
The spate of attacks in the Whitsundays left authorities struggling to explain an apparent escalation in danger in the internationally renowned vacation destination. In September last year, two Australian tourists were mauled on consecutive days, one a 12-year-old girl who lost a leg.
Melbourne, Oct 29 (AP/UNB) — An Australian judge has sentenced a man to 36 years in prison for the murder and rape of an Israeli student in the city of Melbourne.
Victoria state Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth on Tuesday ordered Codey Herrmann to serve at least 30 years behind bars for his crimes against 21-year-old Aiia Maasarwe in January.
Herrmann had pleaded guilty to repeatedly beating Maasarwe with a metal pole, sexually assaulting her and setting her on fire in the attack.
Hollingworth said: "Women should be free to walk the streets alone without fear of being violently attacked by a stranger."
The victim had been studying at La Trobe University in Melbourne for the previous five months as an exchange student from Shanghai University in China.
Canberra, Oct 28 (Xinhua/UNB) -- More than 240 leading conservation scientists called on Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to embrace stronger environmental laws that might avert what they describe as an "extinction crisis" among native species.
The group of scientists signed a letter to the prime minister, urging him to increase spending and support laws that would prevent the natural world from further devastation.
The federal government is due to announce a 10-yearly legislated review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act this week.
Three native Australian species have become extinct in the past decade and another 17 could follow in the next 20 years, according to the letter. More than 1,800 Australian plants and animals are formally listed as "threatened with extinction", but the scientists say the real figure is much higher than that.
"Our current laws are failing because they are too weak, have inadequate review and approval processes, and are not overseen by an effective compliance regime," the scientists said in an open letter published on Monday.
"Since the laws were established (in 1999), 7.7 million hectares of threatened species habitat have been destroyed. That's an area larger than Tasmania. Meanwhile, the number of extinctions continues to climb, while new threats emerge and spread unchecked."
Environmental law was a point of difference at this year's election, with Morrison pledging to limit "green tape" that he said cost jobs while the opposition Labor Party promised a new environment act and a federal environment protection authority.
Lesley Hughes, a distinguished professor of biology at Macquarie University and a signatory to the letter, said on Monday environmental protections in Australia had been consistently wound back over the past decade, usually by conservative governments.
She said such moves were having a significant impact on native species, pointing to the 2016 state of the environment report that found Australia was facing multiple environment changes and lacked a clear national policy that protected the country's national heritage.
A World Wildlife Fund assessment ranked eastern Australia as one of the world's top 11 deforestation hotspots. Australia was the only developed country on the list.
"It's a very grim picture," Hughes said. "This letter is a pre-emptive strike to say this is an opportunity to do better, this is not an opportunity to weaken and dilute the existing weak laws."