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After the disaster: Helping people over the long term

For many people, a disaster doesn't end when the fires or floodwaters disappear; recovering is a long and difficult journey. For the residents of Dungog, NSW, disaster almost struck twice in one year, bringing back the same fear they had felt before. Red Cross was there throughout this difficult time, helping the community to cope.

Red Cross volunteers visiting residents in Raymond Terrace to make sure they are OK after recent flooding.

In April 2015, the country town of Dungog and surrounding areas in NSW were hit by a storm of terrifying proportions, causing widespread and devastating flash flooding. Three people were killed, homes were washed away and the whole community was affected. Then under a year later, while much of the community was still recovering, another storm hit. While not as severe as the first, the threat this year's flood brought back the fear, anxiety and memories of the last catastrophe.

Lurline, a Red Cross volunteer from Dungog, experienced the 2015 floods: "Initially there was total shock, just disbelief," she recalls. "The floodwater absolutely rushed through and just took houses away. Just amazing force in the water; it rose with such ferocity. As the day unfolded, we discovered that we had lost three members of the community and that people's houses had washed away. To lose everything that you've accumulated over a life time, it's horrendous."

Then less than a year later, damaging floods came again, sparking distressing memories and fear.

"I can't do this again, I can't go through that again"

"I'm really conscious about how upsetting it is for people, how they just go, 'I can't do this again, I can't go through that again'," says Lurline. "It's really hard because you just don't know where people are at emotionally. I wasn't surprised that people were completely shaken last week when the water came back up again. Many people aren't back in their houses; they're living with friends or rented accommodation. For others, they've actually just got back into their homes, they've just had them painted, they've just got new carpet, they've got new furniture, they've got everything and it's doing it again. It's just unbelievable."

Lurline, a Red Cross volunteer and Dungog resident, saw firsthand how her community was affected by the 2015 Dungog floods.

"Lots of people were evacuated based on the fact that they were frightened, they were really scared that it was just going to happen again. I was delighted when I got an e-mail to say that Red Cross were coming to do Outreach because it was so evident to me that people were really distressed by the return, the prospect of it doing all over again."

After the emergency, Red Cross continues to support people for the long term. Outreach is when Red Cross volunteers doorknock an area that has been affected by a disaster. They visit homes, attend events and support community activities, offering emotional support, information and referrals to recovery services to those still struggling with long-term effects of the emergency.

"It's really important that people do get help."

Kerrie knocks on a door in Stroud, an area that was severely impacted by the 2015 floods.

"We work in the community, making sure that people are okay with the things that have happened around them," says Kerrie, a volunteer team member from Gloucester, NSW. "Emergency situations trigger all sorts of personal stressors, but we can help people get to the right services that can help them get through. Quite often people need counselling even though they don't realise it. It's really important that people do get help."

"We're here and we care."

Whether it's an area affected by fires, floods or storms, Red Cross will visit the community in the months, even years, following the disaster to look for people who might need more support than was first thought.

"People are just so grateful somebody has knocked on the door and said 'how are you going?'" says Pre, a Red Cross volunteer team leader. "Then you'll come across one or two where there's some problems-they haven't coped as well or they were more impacted than people understood. In the recent storms that we've had, people were extremely distressed as a result of a storm that happened ten months ago. Because we've had a second one, nightmares have come back, they've been concerned they're going to lose their properties and we've been there to say 'how are you going, what can we do to help?'.

Pre is a Red Cross volunteer team leader who's been visiting communities to ask people how they're coping after the floods.

"You're there to be able to lend a helping hand and tell them there are services available. We're here and we care and we can lead them onto the next step, whatever that next step is for them to get back to whatever their new normal is."

"The water's gone, the disaster goes on."

For Lurline, who has experience as a Red Cross volunteer and as someone who has lived through a disaster, she says the most helpful thing is simply to listen: "Listening is a really valuable skill. People have stories they need to tell and it doesn't matter how many times they've told them, until they're ready to move on they still need to tell that same story.

"It's about connecting with the people and letting them know that they're not on their own, that there are options, there is support out there, that there's somebody who actually listens to where they're at. And that's important because although the water's gone, the disaster goes on. We've struggled to get it back together and move on but it's a beautiful town, it's just gorgeous and has such a great sense of community."

How to recover from disasters

If you or someone you know has been affected by fires, floods or storms, Red Cross has a range of resources to help you recover from a disaster.

Volunteer with Red Cross

Get involved and find out how you can help people by volunteering with Red Cross.

How you can help

To help Red Cross provide valuable assistance to people caught up in disasters across Australia, you can donate to Red Cross' Disaster Relief and Recovery work. Donations can be made online at or by calling 1800 811 700.