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Recovering from the Blue Mountains bushfires


The 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires were the worst to hit the region for years. Two years later, people in the area are still feeling the effects of the disaster but many have found their hope on the horizon.

In October 2013, fires swept across the Blue Mountains, Southern Highlands, Hunter and Central Coast regions in NSW. The fires were the worst the Blue Mountains had experienced in over seven years: more than 200 homes were lost and many others damaged. Whole communities, businesses, utilities and infrastructure were affected, having a severe impact on countless people.

Two years on, and communities in these areas are still recovering. One person who's been on that difficult journey of recovery is Jocelyn, who lost her Winmalee home in the fires.

Jocelyn and her husband Allen were determined to rebuild their lives and rebuild their home in the area they had lived for 42 years. It's taken them two years, but Jocelyn and Allen are now about to move into a new home they've rebuilt in the same spot.

"There's fire on the grass…"

It was a hot, windy day, remembers Jocelyn. "I had my 94-year-old mum with me. She went to out the back door and said, 'there's fire on the grass'. I went out to get the hose. It was halfway up our block of land and our workshop was on fire. I tried phoning 000 but thought, well, it's time to leave. I just shut the back door and said, 'Mum, we're leaving'. And bless her, she said 'don't rush me, don't rush me-where's my handbag!'

"I went to a friend of mine and she took one look at me and asked 'What's wrong?' (I said) ' I think my house has burnt down'. My son rang and said he just saw the house burning on TV.. In 43 years I'd seen many fires come and go but nothing like this one."

"We've all cried on each other's shoulders."

"There was never any question they wouldn't stay in Winmalee and rebuild, says Jocelyn. "We didn't even think about it. We just automatically thought we're going back. It was our home, it was where we reared our children; it was our community. Everybody's there for everybody else. It's just a friendly place.

"The community became close after the fires even thought we were a good community before. Everyone was there and we were supporting each another. We've all cried on each other's-still do as a matter of fact-and as each one has moved back into their new home, we've all been there to welcome them."

Recovering from disasters

Recovering from a major disaster can be a long, complex, and often emotional journey. Some parts of the community will have moved on, while others continue to be prone to feelings of anxiety, sadness and frustration as a result of what they have lived through, what they have lost and the challenges of re-establishing their lives.

After bushfires displaced thousands of people across the Blue Mountains, Red Cross launched a two-year recovery program, collaborating with the community and local council service providers. The Red Cross Blue Mountains Recovery Program has worked to build the resilience of individuals, families and communities and help them prepare for future events.

"The impact of emergencies can be long lasting, diverse, and have profound effects upon individuals, households and communities," says Diana Bernardi, Red Cross Emergency Services Manager, NSW.

"Anniversaries of emergencies can be stressful. People may reflect on and even re-experience thoughts, feelings and events that occurred at the time of the emergency and in the days, weeks and months that followed. For many people, anniversaries remind them of their losses. You may start anticipating the anniversary for several days, weeks for even months before. It's normal to have fears and concerns about how the anniversary will make you feel. Don't be afraid to reach out for help, to family or agencies, to get the support you need."

"After a disaster I think you've got to be strong"

"I am looking forward to coming back here," says Jocelyn. "And we have to back by Melbourne Cup day because over the years I've always had a Melbourne Cup lunch raising funds for Red Cross. The last couple of years another lady's taken it over but my husband's been told he's got to be finished by Melbourne Cup day because we're having it here- and we are!"

"After a disaster I think you've got to be strong, otherwise you wouldn't get anywhere. It' easy to say 'put it behind you', but you can't. You've just got to get on with life. You've got your family, your friends and it does make your stronger. If you can face that, you can face anything."

Get prepared for disasters

As summer approaches, now is the time to get prepared for what ever it brings. Being prepared for a bushfire, cyclone, flood or whatever disaster may come your way means you're more likely to cope and get your life back on track. Go to redcross.org.au/prepare and find out how you can make your emergency plan in just four simple steps.