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Page last updated at 09:07 GMT, Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Australia fire deaths rise to 200

A burned out car in Steel's Creek, Victoria
Australia has launched its biggest ever arson investigation into the fires

The number of people who died in Australia's bushfires has reached 200 and will rise further, police say.

The announcement came after fire investigators discovered 11 more bodies in and around the town of Kinglake, in south-east Victoria state.

More than 1,800 homes were destroyed and 7,500 people displaced by the hundreds of fires that swept the state.

Police suspect at least two of the fires were set deliberately, and have charged one man with arson.

As to what the number's going to get to I think we should await and let it unfold over the next week or 10 days
Kieran Walshe
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner
On Monday a Melbourne court named the suspect as Brendan Sokaluk - despite fears for his safety prompted by public fury over the blaze.

Prosecutors allege that the 39-year-old deliberately set a fire in Churchill, Victoria, in which 11 people died.

He is facing charges of arson causing death and of intentionally starting a bushfire. He faces a maximum 25-year sentence for the first charge, and 15 years for the second.

The updated death toll came as Disaster Victim Identification teams examined some of the areas worst-hit by fires for the first time.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe said some of the victims would probably never be identified.

"It is a very difficult process in some cases to actually be able to determine whether the remains are human remains or not," he was quoted by ABC as saying.

"As to what the number's going to get to I think we should await and let it unfold over the next week or 10 days."

Sunday has been announced as a national day of mourning for all victims of the bushfires.

Meanwhile, in the north of the country, major flooding caused by heavy rains has cut off towns along Australia's east coast.

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Aerial footage of Queensland flooding

Parts of New South Wales were declared a natural disaster area on Tuesday after high waters isolated thousands of people.

Much of Queensland state has been under water for weeks as a result of the worst flooding in three decades, with more rain forecast.

Emergency officials said the cost of the damage there would exceed A$210m ($135m; 94m).

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