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Disasters

Search for missing in wildfire-scarred Tasmania

Police and troops are combing wildfire sites across Tasmania for 100 people feared missing. High winds have faded as fire crews try to contain 20 remaining blazes. Australia is facing its worst heatwave in a decade.

Tasmania's acting police commissioner Scott Tilyard said no fatal remains had been found and authorities were still hopeful of locating alive all the missing local residents and summertime tourists.

"We also have to brace ourselves for the fact that we may locate one or more deceased people before we end the process," said Tilyard.

In 2009, 173 people perished during wildfires in Australia's southern state of Victoria. It was the nation's worst natural disaster of modern times.

Extra firefighters dispatched

On Sunday, extra fire crews from Victoria and South Australia were heading to Tasmania. The fire-fighting battle focused on the settlement of Taranna, 47 kilometers (29 miles) east of the island state's capital Hobart.

Tasmania Fire Service chief Mike Brown said "hundreds of kilometers of uncontrolled fire" still raged in forested areas difficult to access east and west of Hobart.

"We have got a lot of work ahead," said Brown.

Weather reprieve

Australia's weather bureau forecast relatively mild weather on Sunday that would bring a brief reprieve before extremely hot conditions resumed later in the week.

On Monday, Prime Minister Julia Gillard is scheduled to tour Tasmania's fire-scared township of Dunalley (pictured above), where about 70 homes and premises, including its school, were destroyed.

The heat wave, which began in Western Australia on December 27 and spread across the continent, is Australia's most wide ranging scorcher in more than a decade, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

ipj/sej (Reuters, AFP, dpa)