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Page last updated at 09:32 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

Australian bushfires toll rises

Officials assess the damage at a property in the Marysville region (Image released 14 Feb)
Officials say rebuilding of properties is unlikely to begin for months

The number of people known to have died in the Australia bushfires has risen to 208, but police say they do not expect the death toll to go much higher.

Police recovered bodies in Flowerdale and in Marysville, one of the worst-hit towns in south-eastern Victoria state.

Australians will remember all the victims of the recent bushfires in a national day of mourning on Sunday.

Meanwhile, survivors have appealed to donors for more work boots and shovels, as their focus shifts to rebuilding.

More than 1,800 homes were destroyed in the fires, and many of the 7,500 people displaced are living in temporary shelters or staying with family.

Officials said the process of rebuilding destroyed properties is unlikely to begin for months, but survivors need tools to help clear the rubble and sift through the debris.

We are dealing with thousands and thousands of records so we've got to make sure that we get it right
Kieran Walshe
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner
There is no official figure for the cost of the damage caused by the fires but estimates range from A$500m ($329m; 225m) to A$2bn ($1.3bn; 900m).

With five fires still burning in Victoria state, police raised the death toll by seven after more remains were identified.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe said investigators were close to establishing the exact number of deaths.

"We are in a position to be relatively comfortable that all those who were unaccounted for have now been accounted for and their remains have been located," he told ABC news.

He said the scale of the disaster meant that police had to work carefully.

"We are dealing with thousands and thousands of records so we've got to make sure that we get it right," he said.

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

Meanwhile, in the north of the country, more supplies have been flown into the state of Queensland, which has been submerged for weeks by the worst flooding in three decades.

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Bellingen Mayor Mark Troy said small creeks quickly became rivers

Fresh water, food and water treatment equipment were airlifted into the far northern town of Karumba, which has been isolated by high waters for more than a month.

Officials say that some 62% of the state is affected by flooding. On Tuesday, the government said the cost of the damage there would exceed A$210m ($135m; 94m).

In New South Wales, five areas on the state's mid-north coast have been declared natural disaster zones.

High water has isolated about 5,000 people in towns, villages and farms across the state's north, emergency officials said.



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