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Victims share tales of survival -

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Reporter: Samantha Donovan

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Well while the firefighters keep up the fight, relief workers have had their work
cut out as well.

The World Today's Sam Donovan is at a relief centre at Whittlesea, north-east of Melbourne where
hundreds of people have gathered after fleeing the fires at Kinglake.

And Sam joins us on the phone now; what's the picture there?

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Oh Brendan, it's a scene I'd have to say of great despair and dread, I would have
to say. I'm standing out looking at the crowd milling in front of the activity centre here, which
has been set up as a relief centre.

Walking through you see lots of people in tears, lots of people hugging each other. I saw a woman
who looked a bit teary but she looked okay and I walked up and asked her how she was going, and she
told me that it had just been confirmed that her 18-year-old nephew had been found dead in the
fires, along with a couple of his mates.

She said he was a young man who is trained in firefighting, knows about fires, but that perhaps
gives us just some sort of idea of the magnitude of what hit the Kinglake area.

I came across another gentleman called Christopher Harvey, and this is what he had to tell me about
his experience.

CHRISTOPHER HARVEY: It's a disaster, it wasn't a fire. This was, everything else that we've stayed
and looked at before were campfires, this was an absolute inferno. There was no chance of fighting
or taking care of this fire. Our whole road's destroyed. Our neighbours are gone, we all built our
houses there about 20-25 years ago because we wanted to live in paradise.

We built ourselves mud-brick houses, we built ourselves log houses, we built beautiful, different
homes with our hands because we didn't want anybody else to build... people over the road who are
gone, they lived in a caravan whilst they were building their house and we built ours at the same
time. They're all gone.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Mr Harvey, how did you manage to get out?

CHRISTOPHER HARVEY: Look we left at about 1.40pm we had to pick our daughter up from the airport
and when nobody wanders, the community fireguard, the tree, nothing, nothing weren't the CFA.

We had an organisation where somebody would call if there was a fire and we would get together and
warn somebody. You would have time to leave. This was just so quick, we were driving down the
mountain, we could, at the end of the road we could see the plume of smoke, the wind was blowing
from the north, the fire was going south, it was in Kilmore, it was a long way from us and when we
were coming down the mountain, it was just like a rocket blast of hot air, leaves, debris just
blowing across the road that was when Mount Disappointment, it just went straight across to Mount
Disappointment in a second.

We got down the mountain and then our daughter, we rang her up, told her to get out because she had
been up to our other farm where there's another fire up in the north-east. And she got out, my
family's safe, we've got, we've lost our home with all our treasures in it. It was just tragic.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Mr Harvey, how many neighbours do you think you've lost?

CHRISTOPHER HARVEY: All of them. There's only Jean and Steve and Steve and Leanne and their
families. Our next-door-neighbours are up the mountain because their kid had a, their child had a
doctor's appointment. Everybody's gone. Everybody's gone. Everybody, their houses are gone. This is
our house, this is our, that's it. They're all dead in their houses there, everybody's dead. I saw
it in the newspaper, they're all dead.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: It's hard.

CHRISTOPHER HARVEY: Our little, our 20-year-old Maltese terrier, was suffering from the heat. We
brought her in because we were going to go back. She's dead.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: We hear so much talk about fire plans and being prepared, but it sounds like
nothing could have prepared anyone for this.

CHRISTOPHER HARVEY: No, this was an eruption, the bush erupted, it ignited all at once, it wasn't
coming towards you at one, 10 miles an hour, 10 kilometres an hour like we understand fires with
small spots. It was, the bottom of the mountain was on fire and then when the south-westerly wind
change came on. It just, the whole thing just exploded. It was literally, literally an inferno. It
was an inferno.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: One of the horrific stories from Victoria's bushfires. Samantha Donovan is on the
scene.

Well, how are they managing to work out who needs help immediately?

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Yes, Brendan. It's a very complex operation. People, organisations like the Red
Cross and the Salvation Army are here taking lists. The impression I'm sure you got from Mr
Harvey's comments is such a sense of uncertainty. People don't know where relatives or neighbours
are. So they're hoping against hope that they're going to run into people here or have some good
news. But yes, people are working feverishly here to find housing.

I was up at Wallan at the relief centre there and earlier today, people are ringing in with offers
of housing. So it really is a great community response but somebody said to me there are about 400
people here, I think there are many more than that. Just people everywhere. Of course a lot of them
stayed here last night at the relief centre and they'll be here for many days to come, I think
Brendan, or relocated somewhere else. As we've just heard, with that very horrific scene at
Kinglake, we know that it is going to take a long time for the assessment teams to sadly recover
all the people who have been killed.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: I can hear children in the background, how are they coping?

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Yes, I suppose parents are doing a very good job of keeping the children happy.
Children are running around, the volunteers are making a great job of trying to put some smiles on
their faces. At both the relief centres I've been at and I'm seeing some unloaded from a car right
in front of me now, people just keep turning up to donate toys or clothes or, so there are plenty
of things to keep children's minds occupied at least. A lot more troubling though for many of the
adults though here.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Samantha Donovan at a relief centre at Whittlesea, north-east of Melbourne.