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Thousands take refuge after Tasmanian bushfires

TERRIBLE SIGHT: A house damaged by a bushfire is seen from a helicopter in Dunalley, Tasmania, yesterday.
TERRIBLE SIGHT: A house damaged by a bushfire is seen from a helicopter in Dunalley, Tasmania, yesterday. CHRIS KIDD

THOUSANDS of people have taken refuge in emergency accommodation and authorities have started a huge clean-up operation following devastating bush fires in Tasmania.

Firefighters managed to gain some control over the worst of the fires on the weekend but not before the flames destroyed more than 100 buildings in the state's south.

The structures, including an RSL and a school, were burnt down in towns scattered along the Tasman Peninsula, east of Hobart.

Authorities told reporters on Sunday they were still trying to verify whether there had been any fatalities, including if a man died while trying to protect his Dunalley home from bush fire.

"We're hoping very much along with everyone else that there won't be any deaths but we need to go through the process to confirm that there hasn't been," Tasmania Acting Police Commissioner Scott Tilyard told media.

Firefighters are still battling blazes at Forcett and Lake Repulse. Personnel from the NSW Rural Fire Service and Victorian Country Fire Authority began arriving in Tasmania on Sunday to relieve staff and volunteers on the ground.

There were reports residents had taken refuge on beaches and along the coastline with some private boat owners performing rescues.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced emergency financial assistance would be available to fire victims, many of whom are staying in emergency accommodation.

Residents will be able to apply for up to $8750 in funding for immediate assistance, temporary living, household goods and replacements.

Ms Gillard is reportedly planning to visit Tasmania this week.

The Bureau of Meteorology predicts temperatures up to 27 degrees for Hobart on Monday coupled with light south easterly winds.

The Insurance Council of Australia has formally declared the worst-affected areas in Tasmania as catastrophe zones.

ICA chief executive officer Rob Whelan said the catastrophe declaration meant insurers had established a taskforce to escalate the industry's response.

"It is much too early for the ICA to estimate the cost and extent of the damage, though we have had reports of several dozen homes having been badly damaged or destroyed," he said.

"The ICA expects to send a team to the disaster recovery centre tomorrow to work alongside emergency services, government agencies and community organisations to help.

"Insurers are greatly concerned about fires that continue to affect several regions of Tasmania. They are also monitoring conditions in other states, in particular South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, which face extreme bushfire risks."

Topics:  bushfires, tasmania



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