17 February 2009
Australian Red Cross/Rodney DekkerAs the death toll from the deadly Australian bushfires reaches 200, the British Red Cross is helping people based in Britain trace relatives feared caught up in the disaster, and the Australian Red Cross continues to help those directly affected.
Her Majesty The Queen has made a significant contribution to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal, launched by the Australian Red Cross and the Australian government to help people who have lost nearly everything.
With phone lines down in many affected areas and the Australian Red Cross and authorities overloaded with enquiries, the British Red Cross international tracing and message services (ITMS) – more usually involved in helping those separated by conflict – has stepped in to help people based in Britain trace loved ones they fear may have been affected by the fires.
Worrying time in Australia
So far ITMS has taken around 500 calls from those worried about friends and relatives in Australia.
"Obviously it's a very worrying time for people in the UK who have friends and relatives either living or travelling in Australia, especially if they have been unable to contact them since the fires broke out," said Kevin Studds, head of ITMS.
"Normal means of communication may not be working and because of the sheer number of enquiries made to the Australian Red Cross by people trying to check their friends and relatives are OK, we have stepped in to take some of that strain.
"Fortunately, so far we've been able to give out a lot of good news to reassure people that their loved ones are safe, but even for those who have escaped with their lives the situation is still desperate – there are a lot of people who have lost absolutely everything."
As well as offering support in tracing, the British Red Cross has also launched an Australian Bushfires Appeal in response to the disaster which has devastated communities in Australia.
More about Australian Bushfires Appeal
Find out how to contact family in Australia