Australians can't imagine how towns will be rebuilt after bushfires

Tom Cheshire, news correspondent in Victoria, Australia

The only way to reach Mallacoota in the Australian state of Victoria is by boat.

It has been cut off all week by bushfires.

From the sea, you can see why.

Along 110 miles of coastline, we saw two massive fires towering above - huge blazes the fire services can still not contain.

But there were smaller fires all around too, a curtain of smoke drawn across the entire coast.

It feels uncanny. On the starboard side of the boat was a clear blue sky over the Tasman Sea.

On the port side, an inky yellow miasma over land. The sea itself was dark with ash.

After four hours we reached Mallacoota.

Navy ships arrived here only today, delivering water, fuel and supplies. The town has been completely isolated since the fires started on Sunday.

There is no power and the roads will not be open for weeks. They have been surviving on their own.

The pictures from the firestorm were extraordinary: people under an unnatural black red sky sheltering on the waterline.

And the town has been gutted, with more than 100 homes destroyed.

Some people we spoke to had taken refuge on the water when the fires came, hiding in boats.

Others went to the main hall in town, a solid structure protected by firefighters, where they played children's films to keep the toddlers there calm.

Angela Rentoul was holidaying with her partner and toddler, and her parents.

She told Sky News: "Every now and then I feel nauseous at the thought of what has happened and the recovery effort that has got to happen here.

"I just can't even imagine how to build this town with all of these houses lost. It's going to be really hard for people but it's an incredible community here."

They have put their names down for evacuation, which will start on Friday.

Angela and her child will have to be airlifted, while her parents will be ferried by boat.

It will be a huge operation. The aim is to shuttle 1,000 people from a narrow, perilous jetty to the big navy vessel waiting in deeper water.

It should take most of the day, before they make a 20-hour journey south.

Then the emergency service will do the same thing, another three or perhaps four times, until everyone who wants to has left.

Some are staying because this is not a holiday house, but their home.

Mark Peterson showed us his house, levelled by a column of fire barrelling up the hill.

It was heartbreaking to see. He told me there had been a lot of tears over the last days.

But now he was helping everyone he could, he said, because they had helped him. And so he helped us.

We'd arrived with tents and sleeping bags, planning to camp on the beach.

Instead Mark picked up us and our gear, and drove us to a friend's house. No power, like everywhere else, but a bed.

And a welcome that is somehow even warmer for all the hardship that people have endured here.