Ash covers the beaches at Nambucca, as bushfires continue to sweep through the Mid North Coast. (Supplied: Renee Tonkin)
Seven days’ worth of smoke and ash from the New South Wales bushfire emergency has taken a toll on Port Macquarie, which today experienced the world’s lowest air quality rating.
- Port Macquarie’s air pollution rating is 1,739 — anything over 200 is hazardous
- The air quality in the region is so bad that children are being sent home from schools
- All beaches in the region remain closed, with many blanketed by ash
The State Government told parents to collect their children from schools in the Mid North Coast city as conditions deteriorated.
At 4:00pm, the Environment Department gave Port Macquarie an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 1,739, warning that all residents should stay inside as much as possible.
Port Macquarie’s deteriorating air quality meant it was rated significantly worse than pollution hotspots like New Delhi and Beijing.
Air Quality Index (AQI) on November 15:
|Port Macquarie, NSW||1,739|
|Gurugram, New Delhi||817|
At Nambucca, about 100 kilometres north of Port Macquarie, striking images of beaches covered in bushfire ash showed the extent the blazes had taken on the environment.
Ash washed up on Nambucca Beach following the bushfires November 15, 2019 (Supplied: Renee Tonkin )
An Environment Department spokesperson said smoke from bushfires and increased dust because of the drought were among the factors leading to the poor air quality.
Air pollution becomes “hazardous” when the rating is over 200. The AQI is a scale used by governments and organisations to inform the public how polluted their local area is.
Earlier this week, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a “state of emergency” due to the bushfires, which have so far killed four people and destroyed more than 300 homes.
Jason Koenig, who lives at Kew near Port Macquarie, and his wife were asked to pick up their three young children from school due to the air quality.
“The schools are doing their best to minimise the smoke but it is still very dark and hazy,” he said.
“It’s difficult to breathe, so a lot of the kids would be having breathing difficulties.”
Port Macquarie’s Lighthouse Beach was barely recognisable during the height of the bushfire emergency. (Supplied: Laura Begbie)
Further north there were widespread delays and cancellations at Coffs Harbour airport, while all beaches on the Mid North Coast were closed again today due to the fires.
There have been increases in the number of hospital presentations for asthma and breathing problems in areas worst affected by the NSW bushfire emergency, prompting a renewed call for people to take precautions when there was smoke in the air.
Emergency Department data shows that hospitals on the Mid North Coast, where fires were at their worst, have had 68 presentations to hospital emergency departments for asthma or breathing problems over the past week — almost double the usual number.
Students were sent home from a number of schools across the Hastings area. (ABC Mid North Coast: Benjamin Shuhyta )