Floods, fires and a pandemic

Emergency Services

Floods, fires and a pandemic

Volunteer Megan Fraser is “ready for anything”

Megan’s extensive volunteering experience and training in psychosocial support enables her to connect with people to make sure they get the support they need.
Imagine sitting on the roof of your home as brown water laps the roof line. You are holding your baby, or your dog, or the hand of someone you love. And all the things you treasure lie beneath that water. Your photo albums, your veggie garden, your grandfather’s gold watch - lost, ruined, or badly damaged.

That happened to the people in the small community of Eugowra in New South Wales, when a flash flood wiped out their town in what was described as a tsunami of flood water.

At around 9.30am on a spring morning in 2022, a deafening cracking sound rang out. Locals describe the sight that followed: banks of canola flowers lifted from nearby fields were carried on a tidal wave that moved through the town like a freight train. Houses were lifted off their foundations, cars floated like boats, and people watched from their roofs as their town became an inland sea.

Megan Fraser has been an Emergency Services volunteer with Red Cross for nearly ten years, and she dropped everything to get to Eugowra as quickly as she could. For four days, she conducted welfare checks with another Red Cross volunteer. With nothing but a crumpled list, their phones, and some Trauma Teddies, they checked properties in town to make sure people were getting the support they needed.

These floods turned this tight-knit community upside down. Megan recalls walking up countless front paths and seeing the fragments of people’s lives lying ruined in the mud: the rose garden they’d been tending to for 50 years, their furniture, musical instruments.

But Megan says that even after all that loss, people still had their sense of humour. They still wanted to smile and connect. “We’d call out for them, and they’d appear in a mud-caked doorway saying things like ‘please wipe your feet before you come in’ or ‘I’d make you a cuppa, but I don’t know where my kettle’s got to’”.

In times of disaster, it is the tenacity of the human spirit that strikes Megan the most.

In the last four years, she has seen the tenacity of the human spirit all up and down the east coast of Australia, in towns like Nerrigundah, Narooma , Cobargo and Lismore just to name a few. All places that have experienced fires or floods alongside a pandemic.

In Nerrigundah, a tiny remote community on the South Coast of New South Wales, Megan spent two weeks helping people navigate the destruction of their town after the 2019 bushfires. “The people of Nerrigundah are very connected to the country around them. They are close to each other and secluded from everything else. And a lot of their identity is wrapped up in their natural surroundings. It’s why they live there, this remote, densely forested place. And it was decimated and stripped away from them.”

Twenty of the 25 homes in Nerrigundah were destroyed. During the fire, nearly everyone who chose to stay sheltered in the town’s fire shed. Together, they held the door to stop it from buckling in the intense heat as the firestorm tore over them.

The aftermath of the fire was devastating for the community: blackened ground where lush forest and wildlife once lived, the loss of a neighbour, the destruction of their homes and intense media attention. All compounding on a town that had always enjoyed its anonymity and wilderness.

Megan’s extensive volunteering experience and training in psychosocial support enabled her to meaningfully connect with the people of Nerrigundah, to advocate for them and empower them to get the help they needed. “It was complex in terms of not forcing my way in but also encouraging them to take assistance, understanding how deeply affected they were and acknowledging their trauma.”

In Nerrigundah, Eugowra, and Narooma, Cobargo and Lismore, in small towns and large towns, Megan has helped people in countless ways; she has sat on mattresses on the floors of evacuation centres and comforted people as they sobbed, cooked sausages for hungry hordes, knocked on mud-caked doors, and travelled down deserted roads to fire-ravaged farms.

And each time, she hopes it will be the last time a community needs her support. But she knows another disaster is inevitable, and when Red Cross calls, she’ll be ready to help.

Thanks to our generous supporters, Australian Red Cross team on the ground helping people affected by disaster, hardship and other crises.

We are people helping people, no matter what. You are one of the helpers too. It’s your generosity that gives people somewhere to turn in tough times. In fact, we can’t do it without you.

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