Scores killed in Australia’s ‘worst fires’

(CNN) — At least 96 people have been killed in Australian wildfires that the country’s public broadcaster Sunday called the worst in the nation’s history.

A policeman and forensics officer look over a house where five people died at Kinglake, north of Melbourne.

A policeman and forensics officer look over a house where five people died at Kinglake, north of Melbourne.

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Kendra Jackson, leading senior constable of Australia’s Victoria state police, told CNN the latest death toll Sunday. The number of dead is now far higher than the toll of 75 in the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983. Close to 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) of land have burned.

Thousands of weary firefighters spent Sunday fighting a losing battle to contain the flames.

“It’s an absolute feeling of helplessness,” said Michelle Achison, who lives in a suburb of Victoria, the state most affected. “There are communities that are completely flattened. There’s nothing at all. And each and every one of us knows somebody who will lose everything.”

The death toll seemed to rise every hour Sunday as rescue workers discovered more bodies. Some victims perished inside cars while trying to flee the flames. Others had stayed put inside houses that were burned to their shells. Video Watch as deadly fires rage »

“I’ve heard of sad stories of flames going over cars and maybe one person surviving,” Dr. John Coleridge of Victoria’s Alfred Hospital told reporters Sunday. “I suspect today they will find lots of cars with people who haven’t survived.”

Hospital officials treating burn victims said the wounds were the worst they have seen since the terrorist bombings in the Indonesian island of Bali in 2002.

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