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Red Cross: The emotional cost of natural disasters

Friday March 24, 2006

The psychological ramifications of Cyclone Larry are likely to mirror in some ways those seen in the wake of disasters such as the Pakistan earthquake or Hurricane Katrina, says Australian Red Cross.

'The understandable shock, anger and numbness regarding lost livelihood may manifest as frustration over the speed of recovery,' said David Overlack, a decorated disaster response Red Cross aid worker who is often called upon at a moment's notice to respond to large-scale disasters.

'As part of the largest humanitarian organisation in the world, and one that reaches the most remote places on earth during times of disaster, Red Cross has an understanding of the emotional challenges people face when the trauma of experiencing a disaster is combined with the reality of personal loss.

'There are bound to be a number of similarities between community responses to Cyclone Larry and those communities who survived the major disasters of the last year. Although we in Red Cross know the undeniable resilience and strength of spirit in these communities, people are still going to need ongoing psychological support.'

Australian Red Cross is one of a number of agencies working with the Queensland Department of Families, the Army and the SES to assess and meet the needs of people in cyclone ravaged far north Queensland.

Red Cross volunteers have been knocking on doors in Babinda - one of the towns worst affected by the storm - to determine what the most urgent needs are and to offer simple care and comfort. Where instances of stress and trauma are identified, community members are being referred to the Government's One Stop Disaster Shops for counselling.

Red Cross is also feeding around 400 people in the town twice a day as well as distributing nappies, disinfectant wipes and water to those waiting for financial assistance.

A Red Cross evacuation centre in Innisfail last night housed approximately 100 people whose homes had been destroyed or badly damaged. It is expected that this centre will remain open for at least two weeks.

In addition, Red Cross yesterday deployed another 15 trained disaster response specialist staff and volunteers to the region to work in rotation with those already on the ground.