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The BBC's Michael Peschardt in Australia
"The police are searching for an Australian man"
 real 28k

Ken Benjamin, Brisbane Police
"I'm now asking the media to assist us in locating this male person"
 real 28k

Bill Trevor, Mayor of Childers
"The community is now rallying round the survivors"
 real 28k

Saturday, 24 June, 2000, 07:58 GMT 08:58 UK
Hostel victims' bodies found
Forensic teams
Police began searching the ruins at first light
Forensic teams in Queensland, Australia, have found 14 bodies in the remains of a backpackers' hostel destroyed by fire.

The total number of victims has been confirmed as 15, after one body was removed earlier in the day.

Superintendent Ken Benjamin of Brisbane Police said seven were from the UK, three from the Netherlands, three from Australia and one each from Korea and Japan.

Police have revealed they are anxious to interview an Australian called Robert Long, 37, who was known to have frequented the Palace Backpackers Hotel and was seen there shortly before the fire started.

We are treating it as a crime scene until we know otherwise

Mick Spinks, police spokesman
"We have issued a bulletin to police forces around the country to see if we can find him," said Superintendent Benjamin.

"We strongly believe he was at the hostel before the fire started and that he can help us with our inquiries."

It is not confirmed whether Long was the man who was ejected from the hostel a week ago and who had allegedly made threats to several women at the hostel in the days leading up to the fire.

"This is still a suspicious fire but it has not yet been upgraded to [arson]," police spokesman Mick Spinks said.

Police have finished interviewing survivors and said they had several leads as a result.

Backpacking in Australia
More than 404,000 backpackers visit each year
Average stay is 66 days
Backpacking generates A$1.72bn a year for the country
The blaze swept through the wooden Palace Backpackers Hotel in the town of Childers, about 300km (185 miles) north of Brisbane at about 12.30am local time on Friday.

About 70 people were rescued and nine survivors taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation. At least 20 of the survivors were from the UK, police said.

Police and forensic teams began searching the burnt-out building at first light. The first body was found on the ground floor of the two-storey building.

Australian emergency numbers
00 617 4126 2222
00 617 3364 3561
Because of the unstable nature of the building, firefighters have still not managed to get to the upstairs of the building, where it is feared three victims may have perished.

Two young women from Aberfan, South Wales, are still missing after the fire, The Mirror newspaper reports. But it has not been confirmed whether they died in the blaze.

All the bodies will be taken to Brisbane for forensic tests. Most will only be identified from dental records or DNA tests in a process that is expected to take several days.

Hundreds of worried parents have tried to contact their children in Australia on backpacking holidays. Hotlines have been opened and young tourists are being urged to call home and reassure their families.

State and federal political leaders are travelling to Childers to speak with the community, which is said to be rallying around the survivors.

A memorial service has been held at the local community hall, where grief councillors were on hand. People have also started laying flowers on a park bench opposite the hostel in memory of the dead.

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard called the fire a "terrible tragedy".

Survivors will be put up in two hotels in the town for the next few days and internet cafes have been cleared to allow them to send e-mails home to friends and family.

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See also:

23 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
'No alarms sounded' in blaze hostel
23 Jun 00 | Scotland
Scot survives backpacker blaze
23 Jun 00 | UK
Backpackers: Phone home
02 Jan 99 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's fatal attractions
08 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Olympic job boom for backpackers
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