17 June 2012 - 5:48 pm

Riding natural disasters

I wrote this post in the early months of last year, and for some reason, never posted it. I can’t remember why! I suspect I got sick or distracted, and just never came back to it. So I thought I’d share it with you all now, because the sentiment is still true, even if a year has passed since it was originally penned.

People are amazing. It’s good to remember this.


Those of you who have seen the news lately will know that Queensland, Australia has had a rough start to the year (2011). La Nina is apparently to blame, bringing violent and wet weather to batter the eastern coast of the country.

First, there were the floods. After several months of rain (note: when I moved here in 2008, everyone was complaining about the 7-year-long drought), a whole heap of rain piled on at once, and most of the state flooded.

I was lucky. My home was untouched – the flood waters didn’t come anywhere near my suburb. I was evacuated out of the office, though, and wound up working from home until the office lost all power. It was two weeks before we were back in the building again, due to the basement parking levels being filled with water (and spilled diesel and who knows what other nasties).

It was a frustrating time. The coverage was heartbreaking, with so many people in the area affected, but nowhere near me. I wanted to go help but we were being told to stay at home and stay off the roads. Being so far from everything, it would have been crazy to try driving all that way, so I stayed where I was (plus I still wasn’t recovered from being sick the week before).

A lot of people were far more determined than me. When I say ‘a lot’, what I mean is not just hundreds, but thousands. That’s how many turned out to help – with moving people’s stuff to higher ground, the evacuation centres, and later the cleanup. A friend of mine went to try to volunteer, and she was turned away every time, along with hundreds or even thousands of others. On the news coverage, there was an image of an old lady helping to clean up the mud in a brand new pair of wellies/rubber boots, bought specially so she could volunteer.

The sheer wealth of goodwill and giving that came out of that disaster is stunning. People drove for hours from unaffected areas to offer whatever they could. Those who were turned away were disappointed and frustrated that they couldn’t do more. I know how they felt – I wanted to be out there, even if my health wouldn’t have stood up to much.

We offered the spare rooms in our house up to anyone who was out of their homes due to flood damage – the best we could do, though we’re too far from the city and flood damage for anyone to take us up on the offer (we assume that’s the reason!). Every place we registered had hundreds of rooms on offer – again, the generosity is astounding.

Having lived in a few different places, I can’t honestly say that that would have happened everywhere. Australia isn’t particularly known for a culture of cooperative community (that I know of), but what I saw over the past few weeks shows that the spirit of helping out neighbours in need is alive and thriving here on this inhospitable island. I’ve become more jaded about people than I like over the past few years, and recent events have done a lot to restore my faith in human nature.

No-one forced those people to help out, psychologically, physically, or otherwise. They were there helping because “How can we not?” As if there was no other right, logical thing to be doing.

I used to share a house with someone who didn’t believe in altruism, as if it was a myth like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. I wonder what she would have thought about this.

Then, just as things were calming down after the floods, the cyclone warning came in. Not for this area, thank goodness, but for the northern part of the state. A cyclone worse than any storm in the last century or so, and more powerful than the hurricane Katrina that flattened New Orleans. It hit an area that was nearly wiped out five years ago by a much smaller cyclone.

The destruction is awful, but the people were amazing. They were sensible, even though they were scared. They did what they were supposed to do, got to safety, and rode it out. Entire towns were flattened, and I think only one person died. One. And that’s because he was in a cyclone on a boat.

Now, those people are picking up the shattered remnants of homes and businesses, and working out how to rebuild. Some only just got finished rebuilding after the last big cyclone blew through. I saw one woman on the news saying, “Oh, we’ll build it again. We did it before and we’ll do it now.” She was crying as she looked at the wreck of her son’s room, missing its roof, covered in rainwater, and knowing just how much work was waiting for her. But she’d just heard a storm tearing the house apart over her head, so I’ll forgive her for being somewhat emotional.

I have great admiration for these people. Perhaps some of them have no choice – their lives are in tatters and they have to rebuild. But they approach it with such calmness and strength. I respect that. And I appreciate them for restoring my faith that people can do the right, good thing when it’s needed. In the current world climate, I think we all need reminders like this.

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