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Cyclone Debbie - we'll recover better when we stand together


Be kind to yourself and be there for each other.

Thursday April 13, 2017

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Tanya and her family were rocked by Cyclone Debbie. When we met them, they were cleaning up their property. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera
Tanya and her family were rocked by Cyclone Debbie. When we met them, they were cleaning up their property. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera
We've seen neighbours helping neighbours, strangers helping strangers, and volunteers already impacted by the cyclone raising a hand to help someone worse off.

Cyclone Debbie has hit Australians in different ways. It's shown us the unpredictable mighty power of mother nature.  It's also shown the power of people standing together to recover, repair and rebuild. 

Across Queensland and New South Wales, we've seen families mourning their loved ones and people who have lost everything.  

We've seen emergency workers battling ferocious conditions to protect people, pets, wildlife and infrastructure.  We've seen neighbours helping neighbours, strangers helping strangers, and volunteers already impacted by the cyclone raising a hand to help someone worse off.  

But it hit us harder than any of us expected. In the town of Eton outside Mackay, we met Tanya, her partner and their two kids. She thought she  were prepared: they had food, batteries, a first aid kit, wind-up lanterns, the works. But when the cyclone roared through, when the river burst its banks, Tanya admits she panicked.  

"While I'm in that panic bubble, I don't listen, I don't comprehend anything, I just see devastation," she told us.  

And yet they stood firm against it all. They huddled together in their home as the cyclone roared outside, and the next day retrieved what they could and got on with the job of cleaning up. Just like thousands of other families.

Healing from something this big takes time, even for the most resilient among us. Thousands of people across two states will be feeling the physical and psychological impacts of this disaster for months and even years to come.  

But we will be there with you, every step of the way. 

From a century of helping Australians recover from crises and natural disasters, Red Cross knows that recovery is about more than rebuilding property - it's about rebuilding lives.  

Knowing that you are not alone is the first step in this rebuilding process.  

So, I want you to know that we hear you. We understand the grief, the frustration and the heartbreak you are feeling - the suffering and loss you have endured.

A symbol of defiance: Graham's fence. Photo: Dilini Perera
A symbol of defiance: Graham's fence. Photo: Dilini Perera
Some people in your street may need an extra hand - whether to fix a broken fence, deliver a quick bag of groceries or lend a sympathetic ear. If you can offer help, it will go a long way and can also help your own recovery.

But I also want you to know that we see the unyielding courage, strength and larrikin humour you have shown in the face of it all.  The messages of defiance on walls and shop fronts - like Graham Wilson's painted fence, 'Cyclone Debbie 0, Bowen 1' - show that you refuse to be beaten. 

Australia is made of strong and generous people; when disaster strikes, history proves that it brings out the best in us.  

But the days, weeks and months ahead will be difficult.  Everyday routines will be disrupted and you might feel overwhelmed and stressed. Here's our best advice on how to get through the next little while: be kind to yourself and others. 

You might notice children may be feeling especially anxious or distressed but they may not want to talk about their emotions and experiences right away. If they prefer not to talk, spend time doing what they like to do. If they express sadness, anger, or fear, tell them it's okay to feel this way, and encourage them to continue sharing their feelings with words or pictures. 

Kids take their lead from adults, so don't disregard your own emotions. If you have symptoms such as finding it hard to think, concentrate or remember details; restlessness; problems sleeping; severe mood swings or craving isolation - this is normal.  

Find someone to talk to and, if you can, be that someone for your family, friends or neighbours if they need it. If these feelings persist, remember that help is there for you - contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or speak to your GP.  

Be there for each other. Some people in your street may need an extra hand - whether to fix a broken fence, deliver a quick bag of groceries or lend a sympathetic ear. If you can offer help, it will go a long way and can also help your own recovery.  

Remember to protect your own health. If you're cleaning your home after the cyclone, use disinfectant, wash your hands regularly, and dry household items outdoors to avoid mould.  

Be patient; with yourself and with others. People often expect recovery to be a rapid process, but in reality it's more complex. Often times you'll feel like you're taking two steps forward and one step back. Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint, so pace yourself accordingly. You might expect that things will return to normal, but sometimes people need to discover a 'new normal' instead. Try not to be afraid of that.  

You may need family, friends and community more than ever; and they'll need you too. If you can connect with those members of your community who are socially isolated, please do. They are particularly vulnerable in times of crisis.   

Finally, understand that this too shall pass - however impossible that may seem right now. No matter what they endure, most people recover well if they have access to the support they need.  

In the coming weeks and months, you'll see our volunteers in the streets, at recovery hubs, maybe even knocking on your door. They'll be happy to chat and maybe point you in the direction of useful resources or services. Red Cross makes a promise to walk alongside you, and we will do whatever we can to help you recover.  

Leisa Bourne is the Queensland State Director for Australian Red Cross.

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