MELBOURNE/SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian officials took advantage of better weather on Monday to reopen roads blocked by wildfires and move some people to safety although thick smoke stalled rescue efforts and hundreds of people remained stranded.
Fires have ravaged more than 8 million hectares (19.8 million acres) of land across the country, an area nearly the size of Austria, killing 25 people, destroying thousands of building and leaving some towns without electricity and mobile coverage.
Police on Monday confirmed the death of a 71-year-old man on the south coast of New South Wales (NSW) state who was reported missing on Dec. 31.
A second day of light rain and cool winds brought some relief from heat-fueled blazes that consumed parts of two states over the weekend, but officials warned the dangerous weather was expected to return this week.
Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said about 400 people were airlifted on Sunday out of Mallacoota, a small, coastal holiday town.
“We had a plan to airlift another 300 out today. Sadly smoke means that is not possible,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has come under criticism for what opponents call his government’s failure to tackle climate change, announced A$2 billion ($1.4 billion) over two years for a newly formed National Bushfire Recovery Agency.
“What we are focusing on here is the human cost and the rebuilding cost for people’s lives,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
He said nearly 4,000 cattle and sheep have been killed in the fires. Countless wild animals have been killed.
Dean Linton, a resident of Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains, used the break in the immediate threat to his town to visit his wife and four children who had fled to Sydney.
He also picked up a fire-fighting pump and generator to help him protect the family home.
“There’s a lot of fuel in that national park; it would only take one lightning strike,” Linton told Reuters.
The bushfire season started earlier than normal this year following a three-year drought that has left much of the country’s bushland tinder-dry.