Australia’s PM Scott Morrison had to cut short a visit to a town ravaged by fire after angry locals heckled him over the government’s response.
Locals said he had done very little to help Cobargo in New South Wales (NSW), where two people died earlier this week and many lost their homes.
The PM said he was “not surprised people are feeling very raw”.
NSW’s premier has declared a week-long state of emergency in response to the escalating bushfire threat.
Since September, bushfires have killed 18 people and destroyed more than 1,200 homes across NSW and neighbouring Victoria. At least 17 people remain missing after fires this week alone.
Thousands of people are already fleeing a vast “tourist leave zone” in NSW, with supplies running low in some cut-off towns. It’s been called “the largest relocation out of the region ever”.
Troops are also preparing to evacuate some of the 4,000 people trapped by fires in Victoria.
Mr Morrison was approached as he visited Cobargo, near the coast in southern NSW.
“How come we only had four trucks to defend our town? Because our town doesn’t have a lot of money but we have hearts of gold, prime minister,” one woman called out.
Others joined in as Mr Morrison turned away, calling him “an idiot” and saying he was not welcome.
“You won’t be getting any votes down here, buddy. No Liberal [party] votes – you’re out, son,” heckled one man.
“What about the people who are dead, prime minister? What about the people who have nowhere to live?” the woman asked Mr Morrison as he was ushered away.
Responding later to the hostile reception, Mr Morrison told the ABC broadcaster: “I understand the very strong feelings people have, they’ve lost everything, and there are still some very dangerous days ahead.
“My job is to ensure that we steady things through these very difficult days and support the states in the response that they are providing.”
Mr Morrison has also been criticised for his climate change policies. He insisted that Australia was meeting the challenge “better than most countries” and fulfilling international targets.
But opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the government was not doing enough.
Mr Morrison had earlier been criticised for going on holiday to Hawaii as the bushfire crisis worsened. The rising public anger at his absence eventually forced him to cut that trip short.-CNN