The area around the centre was filled with vehicles with people sleeping in their cars and caravans. “It was a sea of cars. We had a lot of animals, many of them loved pets . It was very noisy and chaotic. Afterwards, we heard in adjoining buildings it was packed solid too.”
She also later learnt how, with the fires threatening the seaside town, thousands of locals and tourists took shelter on any vacant coastal land they could find.
Lin Barnes (left) and fellow volunteer Sally Dowse at the Batemans Bay evacuation centre. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera
Lin remembers the sheer number of people who arrived at the centre. “We ran out of food, we ran out of drinks. It was very hot in the centre. Power and communications were down so we didn’t really know what was happening out in the community. We were just surviving.”
At one stage a fire ignited nearby, she says. “We were watching helicopters put out that fire. That was an anxious time for everyone … we were in the safest place possible but it was still very stressful.”
During it all, Red Cross volunteers provided a listening ear and comfort to those who needed it. And once the immediate crisis was over they helped people to find the services and the support they would need to move forward.
“People have lost work, they’ve lost their houses. Tourism is the biggest part of Batemans Bay’s economy and we’ve lost that this year and at the end of last year – and so the casual staff have been laid off and people can’t pay their mortgages. They’re worried and stressed.”
The community is helping one another but they also need professional mental health support down the track, she says.