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At least 17 missing in Victoria, and Premier says ‘that number may grow’

Mr Andrews said power remained down right across East Gippsland affecting mobile phone towers and it was hoped some of those missing people were alive but yet to make contact with authorities.

“These are very challenging circumstances and unique in many ways to have this many people cut off from services is not something we would normally experience,” he said.

Some of the destruction in Sarsfield.

Some of the destruction in Sarsfield.

“It is a complex situation and nothing about the assistance and support people require is easy.”

Mr Andrews said most of the missing were residents from remote communities, and none were firefighters.

The first victim of Victoria’s East Gippsland bushfire, great grandfather Mick Roberts, 68, was found dead in his home in Buchan on Wednesday with patchy communications and an active fireground making it difficult to account for the other missing people.

Rescuers from two navy ships, HMAS Choules and MV Sycamore, arrived in Mallacoota on Thursday morning.

Up to 1000 people are set to be evacuated from Mallacoota at 3pm Friday morning, as the naval vessel’s commander gauges how many actually want to leave the town, the Premier has not revealed where they will be evacuated to, but said smoky conditions were adding to the complexity of rescue efforts and meant those stranded could not be flown out.

Early Thursday afternoon Bairnsdale’s skyline was obscured by haze with locals saying the stench of bushfire smoke in the air was the worst its been.

About 4000 people remain stranded in Mallacoota, including about 1000 locals.

Deputy Commissioner Chris Stephenson said dangerous and hot conditions predicted for the weekend had authorities deeply concerned.

“The message from us is very clear, you do not need to be in these remote communities where these fires are approaching,” he said. “We still have serious fire in the landscape. You have to get out and you have to get out before the weekend.”

Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville warned dangerous conditions meant it was impossible to get people in and out of many isolated communities.

“We’re heading into a Friday and Saturday where fires around East Gippsland have potential to impact on communities, including those communities that have already been impacted,” she said.

“I cannot understate just how significant the risk continues to be to those communities. Again, I ask people to listen to the warnings. If you’re in a community and you can leave I ask you to. If you’re in an isolated community be assured we are trying to get communications into to you through satellite phones, food and supplies in where we can.”

The Premier warned on Wednesday, the state was facing an unprecedented prolonged battle fighting raging bushfires across Victoria with the crisis expected to continue for weeks.

Dozens of homes have been razed, farms destroyed and animals killed as 47 fires burn across the state.

Mr Andrews said the blazes were “not like other bushfires”, where communities could begin the process of rebuilding once they had passed through and the fire was out.

“This is very different to that,” he warned.

“This will be an active fire and a very challenging and complex environment for weeks and therefore we have to do things differently.”

The thousands of people stranded in East Gippsland towns face an anxious wait with temperatures expected to soar again on Saturday.

Authorities said 24 structures had been destroyed in Buchan, 19 in Sarsfield, 10 in Mallacoota, up to 15 in Corryong and up to 15 in Cudgewa.

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