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Red Cross supports the long road to recovery

The road to recovery continues long after disaster strikes.

Friday May 5, 2017

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Tropical Cycle Debbie's powerful winds and severe floods damaged thousands of homes in South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales, leaving families to pick up the pieces of their lives.

More than a month after the disaster, Australian Red Cross is on the ground supporting people as they rebuild. "We just go in with an open mind and listen. People often want to talk about their experiences as a way to process what's happened," said Red Cross Outreach Team leader Zach McEvoy.  

As part of the response effort, Red Cross emergency workers partnered with the Department of Housing and Public works to take to the skies - using their helicopter to visit remote homesteads in Issac Shire. Red Cross went to check on residents that experienced severe flash-flooding to offer personal support and information to aid their recovery. From above the emergency services team could see the full extent of the devastation; trees were flattened, mountain sides reduced to landslides, and creeks once a metre wide had been gouged by rushing flood waters leaving gaping chasms of up to 30 metres wide. They also saw the scattered debris of people's lives - furniture, fence-lines, vehicles, broken buildings - washed out across the landscape.

The devastation wreaked by Cyclone Debbie has cost many families most of what they owned.

"We want people to remember that these communities, particularly those in remote areas, have a huge recovery process ahead of them. Not only do they have the arduous task of cleaning up and rebuilding their homes and lives, but every time it rains again people feel scared," said Red Cross Emergency Services Worker Noelene Jephcott. Disaster doesn't just leave physical damage, but an emotional legacy.

Overcoming the shock of disaster, and dealing with feelings of helplessness and uncertainty is a big part of recovery. So Red Cross listens to people, offering them a chance to share their experiences and emotionally process what has happened. One mother recalled how the force of the water smashed their front door open, while she and her son sheltered in fear all night on their dining room table.

They watched their belongings, including their freezer, float past. Another family told how they lost four of their dogs - the owners, unable to battle the strength of the flood's current, were forced to suffer the heartbreak of leaving them to drown. Another woman was devastated by the loss of eleven of her twelve horses.

Faced with these stories of adversity, Red Cross Emergency Services Worker Scott Munns says what continues to impress him is the incredible survival instinct and community spirit, "As soon as communications were back on people were checking on each other. It was amazing to see the strength of the community and how people helped each other, always asking what else can we do to help?"

Through door-to-door outreach and community recovery information centres, Red Cross workers and volunteers have been giving much needed psychosocial support - offering people a listening ear and a place to share their experiences, and referring people to the information and services they need to rebuild their lives.  

So far, Red Cross has reached out to 10,978 people as they recover from disaster.

We continue to support communities as they pick up the pieces of their lives, and recover from Cyclone Debbie. To help Red Cross provide valuable disaster assistance in times of emergency, you can donate to our emergency response and recovery work across Australia.