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Even heroes need a hand sometimes

The electricity had been cut and it was dark as Dan sat on a couch - propped on top of his kitchen bench - with his two dogs and cat. He listened as the drains gurgled and watched water seep into his backyard.

Dan back home with his kids, Ruby and Matthew. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera

The Queensland town, where Dan lives, was hit by major floods last year after the biggest rainfall in 120 years. Five people died in the Townsville floods and over 2,000 homes were damaged – Dan’s included. 

Thanks to our supporters we were there for Dan. It started with beds so he and his kids could get a decent night’s sleep but recovering from a disaster is about much more than replacing physical things.  

On the day of the floods, with his children Matthew and Ruby safe with their mum out of town, Dan prepared for the worst. “I was probably more fortunate being that I was in the military. I had a Plan B.”.

He had enough food and essentials to get by for a few days and planned to ride it out in his attic. But at 10.30pm, when the State Emergency Service started evacuating people, that plan went south. The single dad saw his neighbours struggling so he rushed over and helped carry their children to the evacuation assembly spot.

Over the next three hours, Dan helped to evacuate more than 25 people. He loaded them onto boats and ferried them across the floodwaters, reassuring those who were frightened. Not once getting in the boat himself.

The next day Dan, keen to get back to his pets, set off back home with a friend but around every corner they came across more stranded people. They helped another 20 people to safety.

Dan helped his neighbour Lily’s children get to safety when the floods hit. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera

When he finally made it home he found his pets safe but his house filled with mud and waterlogged. “My house looked like it had been tipped upside down and dropped.”

For weeks after the flood, Dan and the kids moved from one friend’s house to another before finding a place to rent. Trying to hold his family together, he was doing his best but the stress was starting to take its toll.

“I didn’t have a car, the kids and I were sleeping on mattresses on the floor. I was trying to be strong for the kids … I was probably doing it a bit harder than I should have been.”

Sam Savage, one of our community recovery officers, has known Dan for years – Dan coaches his son’s football team. He knew about his situation from the small things he mentioned at training. He also knew Dan always saw to the needs of others before his own and would never have asked for help.

Recovering from a disaster is a complex process that can take months and even years. Our recovery officers provide practical and emotional support to help people process what they have been through and to rebuild their life at their own pace.

Our recovery officer Sam Savage and Dan look over some of his photos that were damaged in the floods. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera

“Physically, you could see he was emotionally distraught,” says Sam. He let Dan know the most human thing to do, the most important thing to do, is reaching out when you need a little help.  

We helped Dan with groceries, clothes, beds for his kids, a fridge so they didn’t have to live out of an Esky and furniture. Sam let Dan know Red Cross is also there to listen and talk.

It’s important for people to have the opportunity to debrief, to talk about their story, their trauma and offload. In my experience, people recover a lot better with the assistance of somebody providing psychosocial support or mental health services.

Sam Savage

Dan says our team helped with a lot of things. “If I needed them I’d give them a call and they were there. It was a really good support network.”

He has now repaired their home and he and his kids have moved back in.

Signs of the flood are hard to find and it’s only when you go outside you can see its legacy. Like Dan’s fence – the one he watched crack like Paddle Pop sticks under the weight of the floodwaters – now permanently water stained.

It was a long road to recovery but he reckons they’re 95% there. That’s thanks to his courage, strength and determination, but he says, in part also to Red Cross.

Dan says the support we gave him helped reduce a lot of the stress. “They had all the networks and resources for pretty much whatever your situation was.”

Sam still checks in with Dan and makes sure the family is okay. Because even heroes need a little help from time to time. Someone on their side, to listen or lend a hand – and that’s what we’re there for.

Find out more about how we support people in emergencies and disasters