William and Kate tour town ravaged by bushfires
WINMALEE, Australia - Agence France-Presse
Britain's Prince William (centre L) and his wife Catherine (centre R) meet with girl guides at Winmalee, an area in the Blue Mountains heavily affected by bushfires, on April 17, 2014. AFP PhotoSurvivors of last year's devastating Australian bushfires met with Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate on Thursday as the royal couple visited the Blue Mountains.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who are on a three-week tour of Australia and New Zealand with their baby son George, met some who lost everything in the fires which destroyed more than 200 homes.
"For them to come out all this way to say hello and say, 'I'm sorry this happened to you' ... it didn't seem like duty to them, it seemed like a pleasure," said Eartha Odell.
Kate, wearing a navy and white Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress and blue wedges, chatted with residents in one of the worst-hit streets in October's inferno, 80 kilometres (50 miles) west of Sydney.
"To not have any loss of life is incredible," she said inside the Winmalee Guides Hall, which is surrounded by blackened trees and where the couple met with residents who battled the blazes.
"I want to shake as many hands as I can," Prince William said. "Everyone."
Fiona Hillan, who lost her home in the disaster, said she had been impressed by the compassion shown by the duke and duchess.
"It is wonderful," she said. "It doesn't replace everything that we've lost, but it certainly helps the healing process."
She added: "The support we've had, all the way along has been amazing. This is the cherry on the top."
Thousands came to catch a glimpse of William and Kate at an official reception at the Sydney Opera House when they arrived on Wednesday, and big crowds ventured to the Blue Mountains on Thursday.
Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill said the royal visit had provoked "great excitement" in the region well known for its bushwalks and stunning scenery.
"The economy has not recovered from the fires and we need to attract visitors back to the mountains ... This coverage will bring people back," he told Australian Associated Press.
In Katoomba the royal couple met some in the crowd after viewing the Three Sisters, the spectacular rock formation which according to Aboriginal legend represents three sisters who were turned to stone. They came away with cards, flowers and toys for eight-month-old George.
The pair were greeted by crowds in the tens of thousands during their ten-day trip to New Zealand, even in small regional towns, and the trend seems likely to continue in Australia.
The Australian leg of the tour will include stops in Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock, in the nation's desert heartland as well as a visit to Sydney's famous Taronga Zoo, when they are expected to bring George.