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Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Thursday, 12 February 2009

Bushfires turn paradise to hell

Marysville, Australia
Marysville looks like a war zone in the wake of the fires

The Australian hill town of Marysville was a haven for tourists until it was hit by the bushfires that are known to have killed nearly 200 people.

Hotels and holiday cabins now lie in piles of ash.

The fires that tore through the state of Victoria have left survivors staring in horror.

"I've seen the inside of hell," said one Marysville resident,"If you've seen pictures of Hiroshima, that's what it's like."

Ian Pearson ran a bed-and-breakfast in Marysville, which used to be a neat, spread-out settlement of some 600 people in the hills about 100 kms (60 miles) north-east of Melbourne.

When the fires hit his property in Darwin Road, Mr Pearson at first decided to try to fight them on his own. Then the sky went black.

Australian bush fire
The firestorm at its height was unstoppable, and many are still missing

"I didn't know what hit me," he told a reporter from the Melbourne Age. "The noise was horrendous, like a plane landing in your living room."

The town is now shut off. Police have set up checkpoints. Reports of looting are being investigated and the search is continuing for suspected fire-raisers.

Oasis

History drew some tourists to Marysville: its early settlers were prospectors seeking their fortune in the gold rush of the 1840s.

For others, the attraction was the thickly forested hills, where Australian species such as wallabies and koalas could be seen in their natural habitats

Newly-married couples sought romantic seclusion, barely an hour's drive from the city of Melbourne.

Australian Prime Minister. Kevin Rudd
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says fire victims will be compensated

The fires - already described as the country's worst natural disaster - have changed everything.

The firestorm that put the town on the news agenda wiped it from the map.

Many survived by making it to the cricket ground in the centre of town, but the Prime Minister of Victoria, John Brumby, has suggested that as many as 100 people, nearly a fifth of Marysville's population, might have perished.

The Australian federal government is offering emergency aid to rebuild communities worst hit by the fires.

But for now, the scorched earth that was once Marysville is one big crime scene.

Forensic experts have called in refrigerated trucks to serve as temporary mortuaries while the search for bodies continues.

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