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Disasters in Australia

Disasters in Australia 2015/16: "This summer's been one of our busiest ever"

Over the past summer, twenty significant disaster events caused widespread destruction to Australian communities in just four months-but Red Cross was ready to respond.

The past summer has been one of the busiest ever for Red Cross' Emergency Services team. Across the country, over 800 staff and volunteers assisted almost 13,000 people affected by fires, floods, cyclones, storms and heatwaves.

The year was typified by fast-paced, high-impact disasters as well as a number of significant and devastating events such as the fires in Pinery in SA, the Surf Coast in VIC, and Esperence and Waroona in WA. Away from the heat, serious flooding caused widespread disruption and evacuations around Daly River NT; the Hunter Valley NSW was hit by a second serious flood in the space of a year; while an unexpected tornado pummelled Kurnell in Sydney's south.

"With 20 disaster events across seven States and Territories in four months, this summer's been one of our busiest ever," says Simon Rickard, national coordinator of operations for Australian Red Cross' emergency services team.

With 20 disaster events across seven States and Territories in four months, this summer's been one of our busiest ever.

"Many of these events had an intense impact over a short timeframe and required a rapid response from emergency services teams. Others lasted a considerable time: the response to fires in Pinery, SA and Waroona, WA, lasted for 21 and 33 days respectively, while the evacuations from the Daly River floods in the Northern Territory, lasted for 24. These responses were the biggest their state or territory had undertaken since the start of the national program in 2006."

"December and January alone had 14 events in 50 days and many of this year's bushfires and floods ran concurrently-which added to the already immense challenge."

See where and when disasters struck this year and the Red Cross response in our disasters in Australia infographic.

Throughout the summer and up and down the country, Red Cross staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly supporting evacuated communities in relief and recovery centres, providing valuable psychological first aid to those coming to terms with the disasters, and reconnecting separated friends and family through the Register.Find.Reunite. service. Christmas Day was particularly challenging. In the Northern Territory, around 500 people were evacuated from the Naiyu (Daly River) region after serious flooding, while in Victoria, thousands of residents and tourists were evacuated to Lorne after bushfires threatened Surf Coast communities.

On of these volunteers was Lisa Carr who left her family Christmas lunch to give emergency assistance to people who were displaced from the Wye River fire. Lisa and other Red Cross staff and volunteers offered psychological counselling in a relief centre; handed out food and water; and helped evacuees who were waiting to hear about the fate of their homes.

"It's checking in with people, seeing that they're accepting truth, and helping them get on with the new normal," says Lisa. "Sometimes it's taking a husband who's been strong for his wife into another room, where he can sit down and talk about his own trauma. Many of these people are in shock, but the first thing they need is often just somebody who will listen to them."

Recovery from a disaster can be a long process and will often take months or years.

Now, with the threat of disasters subsiding until next summer, the task in hand has turned from response to recovery. The effects of a disaster can continue to be felt for months, or even years, for many and Red Cross will continue to work closely with local, regional and state partners to assist with relief and recovery planning.

"Recovery from a disaster can be a long process and will often take months or years," says Shona Whitton, national coordinator for Australian Red Cross' recovery teams. "It's important to help people understand that their reactions are normal following a distressing event. Most people recover fully, but at different paces."

Red Cross has a range of resources to help people recover from a disaster and to help people get prepared and make an emergency plan.

To help Red Cross provide valuable disaster assistance in times of emergency, you can donate to our emergency response and recovery work across Australia.

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