Weathering the storm

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A word from our Acting CEO, Brad Webb:

Disasters historically hit at any time of the year, but it’s always June that I’m reminded of them the most.

Perhaps it’s the still-fresh memory of the June floods in 2007. Strong winds and torrential rain flooded streets and damaged homes across the Hunter and Central Coast. It was even strong enough to pull in a coal ship onto Newcastle’s Nobby’s Beach.

Photo of coal ship Pasha Bulker washed up on Nobby's Beach Newcastle

Coal Ship ‘MV Pasha Bulker’ was stuck on Nobby’s Beach for nearly a month following the 2007 storm. Photo source.

There are countless other disasters that have struck regional NSW over the years – floods, earthquakes, bushfires – and these events have tested both our region’s infrastructure and community resilience.

In NSW, Disaster Recovery is coordinated by the Department of Justice, Office of Emergency. Within that office, the Disaster Welfare Services Branch, together with the NSW Department of Family and Community Services, coordinate and deliver welfare services at district and local levels under the State Emergency Management Plan.

The key welfare services are defined as emergency accommodation, catering, personal support, material aid, immediate financial assistance and disaster relief grants. Various agencies have different responsibilities for different welfare services.

The Anglicare agencies of NSW, which includes Samaritans, are responsible for material aid, which includes basic clothing, towels, nappies, and personal items.

As part of its contribution to the NSW response, Samaritans is proud to host seven volunteer Disaster Recovery teams across the Central Coast, Newcastle, Hunter and Manning regions of NSW. During State-declared disaster events, a coordinated State Emergency Management Plan rolls out across affected areas. Disaster Recovery Teams are a part of that response.

Disaster Recovery volunteers are often the warm, friendly face offering a helping hand in what can be a chaotic time for communities who are temporarily displaced.

Kevin Paton has overseen the Samaritans Disaster Recovery teams and training for over 10 years and shared with me his experiences and his admiration for the volunteers who commit to help.

The disasters that we have usually responded to during my time at Samaritans are floods arising from east coast lows – I’m very sensitised to a storm now and emotionally I move into preparedness mode when the weather turns bad. 
I’m very proud to be connected to the volunteer teams, the work they do in disasters is extraordinary. In a declared disaster, our teams have a specific role among a small number of organisations like the Red Cross, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency and The Salvation Army. We ensure people in the evacuation centres have the essentials they need and we have also been involved in coordinated door knocking after a disaster to ensure people in their homes are ok.

It’s not just roads and buildings that can be damaged in a disaster, community spirit can be dampened as people cope with the stress of disruption and loss of livelihoods, livestock and sometimes human life. Community rebuilding and recovery can take many years and successive events are also significant. Our volunteers have met many people over the years who are dealing with the emotions of a current disaster whilst still recovering from the lasting aftermath of a previous one.

Helen has been a Disaster Recovery volunteer for 14 years and it was the June 2007 floods that also stand out in her mind.

“It was a busy time, but it was a time where you really were helping people. People who were stranded in their homes, people that had nothing left to eat, people were in evacuation centres who had nowhere else to sleep. I was actually at Wyong Golf Course for almost a week and we had a whole nursing home full of people transferred there and we were basically nursing them on mattresses on the floor. It was really nice to be able to do that for them because a lot of them were very confused. We had things like sing alongs for them, tried to keep them occupied in some way. It was a special event for us.”

Volunteers are the absolute lifeblood of the Samaritans Disaster Recovery efforts. While thankfully disasters are few and far between, I am very proud to know that Samaritans can support our local community to be there for one another in a time of crisis. To all of our Disaster Recovery volunteers, I say thank you.

There’s always room for more friendly faces on Samaritans Disaster Recovery teams, particularly in West Lake Macquarie, Nelson Bay, Muswellbrook, Singleton, Merriwa and the Manning region. Annual training is provided and you or someone you know can make an enquiry by contacting 1300 656 336.