Page last updated at 13:12 GMT, Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Queen to make Australia donation

Queen Elizabeth II
The Queen, Australia's head of state, last visited the country in 2006

The Queen is to make a private donation to the fund-raising appeal for victims of the wildfires in Australia.

Buckingham Palace has announced that the monarch, who is Australia's head of state, will give an unspecified sum to the Victorian Bushfire Fund.

The fund has been launched by the Australian Red Cross alongside the state Premier of Victoria, John Brumby, and the federal government.

It has so far raised more than 31m Australian dollars (14m).

The Queen last paid a state visit to Australia in 2006, for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

Her donation will be used to assist individuals and communities affected by the worst wildfires in the country's history.

Fires near Melbourne, in the south-eastern state of Victoria, have destroyed more than 750 homes, left 5,000 people homeless, and burned 1,100 square miles of land, according to the Victoria Country Fire Authority.

The final death toll is expected to exceed 200 as rescuers continue to search burnt-out settlements.

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

"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."

Support for families

Meanwhile, a children's charity has launched an emergency response team to help people affected by the disaster.

Save the Children deployed staff with a play centre bus to Wandong in Victoria today.

The unit will offer parents support and advice while giving children the chance to play games.

"Whole families have perished, unable to escape from the flames, and mothers and children have been separated from fathers who stayed behind to try and fight the fire and protect their homes," said Sharyn Hanly, of Save the Children Australia.

"The dramatic images of the disaster impact on children not only in the immediate area where the destruction has taken place, but also children throughout the country witnessing the images on television."

The charity is hoping to send more buses to the worst affected areas this week.

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