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Australians give in record numbers as fires continue to burn in several parts of Victoria

Tuesday February 10, 2009

The enormous relief effort continued today as bushfires were still threatening communites to the east of Melbourne and in northwest Victoria.

'We are seeing devastation on a massive scale and we still don't know the full extent of it,' said Australian Red Cross Chief Executive Officer Robert Tickner.

'We are continuing to see physically and emotionally exhausted people arriving at our relief centres and we are expecting more to arrive over the next few days,' Mr Tickner said.

'One man arrived at a relief centre this morning after spending 36 hours lost in burnt-out bush. He was covered from head to toe in soot and ash and was very disoriented. This is just one of thousands of incredible stories we are hearing from the centres around the state.'

While the emergency relief effort continues, Australians are digging deep with donations to the Victorian Bushfire Fund totalling $28 million as at 5.30 pm today. There are very significant additionl corporate pledges and government commitments on top of this figure.

'The response from the Australian public has been incredible,' Mr Tickner said, 'but the task ahead is huge so we still need people to donate.

'We ask anyone who is having difficulty getting through to the toll free donation line (1800 811 700) or donating online (, to be patient. We have seen an unprecedented demand with thousands of people constantly trying to get through, but please keep trying.'

To date, Red Cross has registered more than 7,000 people at relief centres across the state. Volunteers at the State Inquiry Centre have responded to more than 10,000 calls from people looking for loved ones.

People should ring 1800 727 077 or email only if they are unable to contact someone in the affected areas. For enquiries from overseas only, the number is +61 8 9225 8880.

Please do not use these lines to offer assistance or donations. It is vitally important that the State Inquiry Centre lines are kept free for registrations and enquiries.

Given the nature of the emergency, Red Cross asks that people contacting the State Inquiry Centre also remain patient.

For information on fires in Victoria and general fire safety advice, call 1800 240 667.