9 Feb 2009

World rallies as Australia mourns fire victims

9:40 pm on 9 February 2009

International friends have rallied to help and sympathise with Australia in the wake of the nation's deadliest bushfire disaster.

The weekend inferno, which has exacted the biggest peacetime toll on the country, made headlines around the world, prompting messages of support from people thousands of miles away.

The official death toll stood at 131 on Monday, after a fire storm tore through several towns north of Melbourne on Saturday, destroying everything in its path.

Governor-General Quentin Bryce passed on a message from the Queen to the nation, expressing her shock and dismay at the tragedy.

"I was shocked and saddened to learn of the terrible toll being exacted by the fires this weekend," the Queen's message read.

"I send my heartfelt condolences to the families of all those who have died and my deep sympathy to the many that have lost their homes in this disaster."

Aside from condolences, two of Australia's closest allies, Britain and New Zealand, have offered practical assistance.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has accepted an offer of 100 firefighters from New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

Mr Key, who spoke to Mr Rudd on Sunday night, said the emergency workers could be mobilised within two days.

Mr Key expressed New Zealand's sympathy and said Mr Rudd was "pretty cut up" by the devastating loss of life and property.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered to provide any help his nation could during a telephone conversation with Mr Rudd.

East Timor's President Jose Ramos Horta cancelled an official visit to Australia, mindful political leaders would be preoccupied with the aftermath of the bushfire.

His visit was due to include stops in Melbourne and Canberra, where he was set to address the National Press Club and open the new Timorese embassy.