I live in Burnett Heads, Queensland and on Australia Day this year our street was hit by a tornado. Luckily my home is OK, but 4 neighbouring homes are now uninhabitable. I lost my 20 year old gardens to the winds.
2 days later our nearest City, Bundaberg, was flooded to a level never before recorded, 9.32m. A whole suburb has been classified with catastrophic damage and four weeks later over 400 people remain homeless.
Here is a well written account of the devastation from ABC Sunshine Coast’s reporter Kylie Bartholomew: http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2013/02/06/3684747.htm
Being a public servant, I enrolled with the QLD Community Recovery Ready Recovery program, which sends staff from all any any QLD Government department to a disaster zone to assist the local community in getting back on their feet. This allows the locals to get on with business and personal recovery by not stretching local resources beyond capacity. It also helps people in major cities witness the hardship and tenacity of their rural co-workers, friends and families. (http://www.qld.gov.au/community/ )
This was my first deployment, I must say it was wonderful to see people from all different departments and levels work so collaboratively and cooperatively together with little training but sound leadership. A great team environment that produced immediate and positive results for those affected by the disaster, and personal growth for those administering aid. I worked in the outreach teams, with a co-community recovery person, a Red Cross rep and a Lifeline counsellor. We visited some of the worst affected areas of Bundaberg and assisted residents in applying for aid and referrals for further emotional support. A humbling experience.
There are some residents who lost everything, and after their mud-filled homes were fire-hosed out by the Mud Army helpers, are now continuing with the clean up without any power or assistance, and sleeping on mats to keep their homes safe from looters. Still so much to do, but the strength of the local spirit is amazing.
Although I was personally affected by the tornado in Burnett Heads, with a lot of damage in our street, being able to help others through this program has empowered me to cope with our own losses and given me empathy when talking to others.
Helping others is a great way to help yourself.
How can I use experience in teaching education for sustainability? I could start class discussions on government systems and disaster management plans – how although our local caravan shop was totally destroyed, we couldn’t access the petrol in the underground tanks desperately needed to run generators when the whole town was then without power – some streets for up to 5 days.
We can talk about the resilience of communities in disaster situations, about the impact of flood debris on the local environment (sunken boats, flood damaged cars, household rubbish). While people are cleaning their homes, they are still washing debris into the waterways.
The beneficial use of social media also came to the fore during this event, with new initiatives, such as Adopt A Wash http://www.news-mail.com.au/news/adopt-wash-hotline-running-hot/1745126/ where those who had working washing machines helped do the laundry of strangers – all via Facebook. I was able to post links to aid using Twitter #bundabergfloods
In helping with the clean up, I find myself wishing we were better prepared to make use of damaged materials instead of sending everything to the waste dump. Fencing, furniture, metals products, wooden items all removed from sight as quickly as possible as part of the community recovery. I know it’s hard to sort the volume at the time, but I wonder if it could have been separated into ‘clean’ (i.e. no biological hazard) to be sorted when the dust settles.
Want to help?
Monetary donations can be made through Red Cross Australia http://redcross.org.au/qld-floods-2013.aspx
You can also match physical donations to someone in need via GIVIT http://givit.org.au/