Associated Press
February 12, 2009

YEA, Australia – With the death toll expected to rise and the prime minister saying it’s “important, very important that the nation grieves,” Australia prepared to observe an official day of mourning for the scores of people killed by wildfires last weekend.

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Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also ordered that military bases be opened to house some of the more than 5,000 people who lost their homes in Saturday’s blazes.

At least 181 people have been killed, but officials say the death toll could exceed 200.

“In recognition of the terrible events of the past few days, I announce to the House that today the Victorian premier and I have agreed that there will be a national day of mourning and a national service of mourning for the victims of the Victorian bush fires,” Rudd told Parliament.

The date has not yet been chosen.

“It is important, it is very important that the nation grieves,” Rudd said.

Compounding the sorrow for some families is that the coroner’s office for the state of Victoria has not released the bodies of their loved ones for funerals, and an official said the wait could take up to two weeks.

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