Emergency services to help communities through disaster

Emergency services to help communities through disaster

“I held people’s hands and offered them a shoulder to cry on.”

Among the people I supported were Nadia and her family, who were affected by last year’s floods in Ballina, New South Wales. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera

People will need help for a long time after last year’s floods in the Northern Rivers. But I know Red Cross will be there with my community as its recovers and starts over.

I’m one of the many Red Cross Emergency Services volunteers deployed when disaster struck the northern New South Wales region. Watching my community suffer was hard, and I wanted to do as much as possible to help.

People knew the floods were coming, but their scale surprised everyone, me included. No one expected the floodwaters to reach so high or thought it would happen so fast.

With roads flooded and closed, I couldn’t travel far, so I initially helped with the set up and operations of an evacuation site at the Lennox Head Community Centre.

Together, Red Cross volunteers coordinated emergency bedding, food donations, toiletries, nappies, and even entertainment and distractions for the children.

We comforted people, offered reassurance, and calmed and normalised things as much as possible.

In evacuation centres, we have two critical jobs: registering people arriving and providing psychosocial support. We are specially trained to offer this support. I held people’s hands and offered them a shoulder to cry on while providing the practical and emotional support they so needed.

Seeing elderly people and children displaced, sheltering in these evacuation centres away from their normality, pulled on my heartstrings. Older people felt distressed, not knowing what was happening to their homes and belongings. Young families struggled to settle their kids in such unusual surroundings. The distress and trauma of each evacuee was clearly evident that first night.

Red Cross support made going through this traumatic experience a little easier for people. It was a wonderful feeling to help and see everyone come together for their neighbours. And being part of this community made me extremely proud.

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