Southeastern Australia faced chaos on Friday, as some of the hottest temperatures in a century fanned fires that destroyed homes, claimed lives and strained emergency, power and transport services.
Scores of train services were cut and tens of thousands of homes were without power in the states of Victoria and South Australia, with the mercury topping 46ºC for a third consecutive day.
“It is an extreme week. The system is not made to operate where you’ve got temperatures in the suburbs of 46ºC,” said Victoria’s leader, John Brumby, as the heatwave dragged on.
As many as 10 homes were razed as wildfires raged in the state’s Latrobe Valley, burning through 2 ,000ha of forest, grassland and pine plantations, emergency workers said.
In the neighbouring state of South Australia, police said there had been a surge in sudden deaths, with 19 people dying on Friday in the state capital Adelaide, of whom 14 were elderly.
“Normally the ambulance service would have just a few [deaths] during a day, so this is a much higher number,” said John Hill, South Australia’s health minister.
“You’ve got to draw the conclusion that a lot of them have something related to the effects of heat.”
The Australian Open tennis grand slam in Melbourne did not escape the heat, with organisers closing the roof of the Rod Laver Arena to fend off the sun on centre-court and offering players icepacks and longer breaks.
Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic pulled out citing heat exhaustion when the temperature reached 35ºC on Tuesday and Serena Williams said it was so hot on court she felt like she was having an “out-of-body experience”.
The record temperatures — Victoria’s hottest three days since records began — caused rail lines to buckle and forced the cancellation of hundreds of train services.
All train travel in the state was free to make up for the axing of about 500 train services owing to the heat on Thursday.
Searing temperatures also placed the electricity grid under acute strain, prompting an explosion at a substation in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, and resulting in rolling blackouts throughout the region.
Children were sent home from school, tens of thousands of people were estimated to have skipped work and lifesavers worked late into the night for the first time in history as people flocked to the ocean to cool off.
Adelaide is preparing for its longest hot spell since 1908, with forecasters tipping temperatures above 38ºC for the next seven days. It recorded its hottest ever night on Thursday — a sweltering minimum of 34ºC.
Tasmania hit a record temperature of above 40ºC for the second day in a row on Friday, only the second time in recorded history the southern island state has experienced such heat. — AFP