By Angela Dorizas
Victorian councils are at the frontline of emergency relief efforts to assist victims of Australia’s deadliest bushfire disaster.
At least 108 people have been killed and more than 750 homes have been lost in a series of devastating blazes across the state.
The Kinglake area, 46 kilometres north of Melbourne, has been the worst affected, with more than 550 homes destroyed and whole towns, such as Marysville, obliterated.
Residents of Kinglake have sheltered at the Whittlesea Emergency Relief Centre which is coordinated by Whittlesea City Council, the Country Fire Authority, Victorian Police and the Department of Human Services.
Whittlesea councillor and interim president of the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) Sam Alessi said local authorities activated the Municipal Emergency Management Plan on Saturday to respond to the disaster.
“Local government in all the affected areas play a vital role in setting up their emergency plans,” Cr Alessi told Government News.
“At this point our main role has been assisting in the emergency relief of the people who have been evacuated. I’m told that a lot of people last night found places to stay.
"There were about 16 or so who stayed at the Whittlesea Emergency Relief Centre. We’ve got a number of staff there assisting the Red Cross and the CFA as they require.”
Councils across Victoria were operating more than 25 council relief centres over the weekend, providing counselling and personal support services to displaced and distraught residents.
Cr Alessi said Whittlesea council staff and members were also personally affected by the bushfires, adding that a number of staff would not be turning up to work today.
“We all know of people who have been affected in one way or another,” he said.
Local government is expected to play a critical role in rebuilding entire towns destroyed by the fires.
“Yesterday, today and tomorrow is the emergency aspect. As the days go on, local government will work with other authorities in re-establishing these communities,” he said.
“Our role will come in a little bit further down the track, when the immediate emergency is over.”
Cr Alessi said councils already had fire prevention strategies in place and that there was nothing more they could have done to prevent the blazes.
“The scale of this disaster was just enormous. I don’t think there’s anything that anyone could do,” he said.
Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) president Geoff Lake praised the efforts of councils across the state.
"The role played by councils in an emergency is not as visible as the firefighters on the frontline, however it is no less important in protecting, safeguarding and rebuilding devastated communities," Cr Lake said.
"The work of councils is only just beginning. Councils will lead the community recovery effort which, given the unprecedented scale of loss and damage in many communities, will last for years."
Cr Lake said councils from unaffected parts of the state were providing staff and resources to the worst hit local government areas.
"I also want to recognise the role being played by councils in other parts of Australia responding to other emergencies at the moment," he said.
"From the major flooding in north Queensland to bushfires still underway in other states, particularly in New South Wales, councils are performing an invaluable role in assisting affected communities."
Victorian Premier John Brumby in partnership with the Federal Government and Red Cross launched a national appeal to support communities affected by the disaster.
To make a donation click here or call 1800 811 700.
For more information on the bushfires call the Victorian bushfire info line on 1800 240 667.
Affected local government areas:
Alpine Shire Council
Baw Baw Shire Council
Cardinia Shire Council
Casey City Council
Corangamite Shire Council
Greater Bendigo City Council
Mount Alexander Shire Council
Horsham Rural City Council
Indigo Shire Council
Knox City Council
Latrobe City Council
Mitchell Shire Council
Murrindindi Shire Council
Nillumbik Shire Council
Southern Grampians Shire Council
Wellington Shire Council
Whittlesea City Council
Yarra Ranges Shire Council
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