Due to the current epidemic, we have had to put a pause on volunteers travelling to Mogo. We are working on ways to keep the recovery effort going. Please do continue to register as a volunteer and include any online or phone support you can provide in the current situation.
We are keeping our database of over 160 residents updated on fire recovery news and Covid-19 information through text messages and emails. We are also regularly updating the Fire Recovery notice board at the Mogo RFS shed.
Please submit a Fire Impact Form, sms 0487 797 068 or email us if you would like to be on our mailing list for these updates.
Weekly town meetings at 4pm Wednesdays at RFS shed is on hold. Click here for questions and answers from the last town meeting. Updates will continue to be posted on notice board at Mogo RFS shed and emailed.
Our "cup of tea with a local" on at 10am of Fridays at Grumpy Sweethearts is on hold.
New Red Cross grants: inclusion criteria has been expanded for the Primary Residence Repair grant to include damage to water, septic, and / or power infrastructure. There is a new "Rebuild Grant" to assist early stages of rebuild including building plans, council fees and safety equipment: 1800 733 276.
Housing Assistance: 1800 422 322 or Call Debbie 0457 223 423.
Disaster Response Legal Service 1800 801 529
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Lifeline Help: 13 43 57
Mental Health line: 1800 011 511
Covid-19 help with groceries and medications for Seniors, disabled, immune compromised and those in mandatory isolation:
Contact your pharmacy and they can arrange for your medications to be delivered to you free of charge through Australia Post.
Meals on wheels Moruya: 4474 4464
Woolworths basic box $80 including delivery to your door 1800 904 698
Woolworths has re-started their home deliveries for the above groups of people. One of our volunteers can take your regular grocery order over the phone and arrange home delivery for you if you do not have internet access or find it difficult. Contact Margaret on 0413074249. Woolworths.com.au
I have uploaded a lot of photos and videos as pictures tell a thousand words. Please read the below and then look at the photos and watch the videos.
31st of December, the firestorm hit our town of Mogo and we were cut off from civilisation:
The initial fire front roared through early in the morning from west to east. 70 metre high fire tornadoes headed towards the coast. The water from the RFS hoses evaporated before they got anywhere near the fires. It was pitch black at 11:30 am, 47 degrees with 80km/hr winds. The heat and smoke burned your lungs on every breath. Those of us who had evacuated to the beaches were spared by a southerly change that brought fresh air and pushed the fires back away from us to reveal a 14 kilometre high "storm front" but these storm clouds were on fire. Our homes, our town and our loved ones were in that fire cloud. The southerly change sent the fire fronts in new directions, destroying most areas that had survived the initial front.
No power, no phones, no internet, no radio, no tv, no eftpos, no way to get cash out, no power to pump petrol at stations.
Most residents had used the last of their water in their tanks and dams to fight the fires so no water to continue fighting fires or to drink or wash.
Even if you had water you had no pressure as water pumps need power and most pumps and tanks were destroyed anyway.
No petrol to drive and find bottled water or any other essentials.
No emergency services, 000 did not work.
Evacuation centres were evacuated.
No access to hospital, pharmacy or medical services, no ambulance. All roads were blocked by downed trees.
SES trucks and RFS trucks also then ran out of petrol and water.
It was a war zone.
No communication between each other or outside world.
No-one showered and barely slept for a week with constant new spot fires. Family members took shifts sleeping so one person was always on watch.
A few locals still had water in their dams, our place was one, so Diederick and his mates Trav and Andy would fill the 1000L IBC on the back of Trav's ute and head out to put out fires. Everyone worked together, RFS and residents, flat out, for days. Those on the ground could not communicate with the water bombing aircraft or other emergency services. No-one knew what was happening outside of Mogo. Only VHF radios worked when in line of site as the repeater stations were down.
On the 6th Jan some more of Diederick's friends made it through the road blocks. They brought with them generators, jerry cans, chainsaws, water, basic tools and petrol. Diederick and I headed out to drop them at residents homes. It was all bought and paid for by friends in Sydney. We then drove along the coast roads to Batemans Bay hardwiring generators into pharmacies so nursing homes and residents could access medications. I drove some generators down to Narooma where they then went on to the Womboyne RFS (3 hours south). That's how precious they were.
There remained no power or communication for weeks, if you had a Telstra phone you sometimes had phone / internet reception in a few spots. More friends arrived from Sydney with more generators, hey, lucern, fencing materials, beer and food and they set about helping out residents as best they could. Diederick had money being put into his PayPal account from people seeing what he was doing on instagram. With that he bougt more chainsaws and power tools, feed for wildlife and materials to make food and water stations. Also fencing materials and more stock fodder. The food and water stations were set up for the remaining wildlife and were filled by the (now superstar firefighting ute) which was perfect for keeping water troughs topped up.
I drove around and checked who needed what and then the boys would try to sort them out. There were no agencies on the ground, just a few policemen. Looting was becoming a problem and there were a lot of scared elderly residents with no essential services. Some had not showered in 3 weeks, their landlines were down, they had no running water or power. There was no-one checking on the people, only a few public works people from council taping off suspected dangerous houses and debris piles but not speaking to residents. Help was available in Batemans Bay Recovery centre but with no communication no-one knew about it. Leaving your house unguarded (and what little valuables you had left), using up what little petrol you had for an entire day to then be told you don't qualify for any assistance (Red Cross only originally offered $5,000 if whole house lost) was not an experience residents wanted to repeat even when more assistance became available.
A group of French and German volunteers travelled down from Sydney on 19th of Jan who had contacted me as many people had ended up with my (new Telstra) number from driving around seeing who needed generators. The volunteers were amazing, helping residents begin their cleanup and fixing vital things like front gates for security.
There was a lot of help and aid wanting to come down from Sydney but no-one on the ground knowing where it could go. Some well intentioned Sydney residents would show up at properties, expecting to be welcomed but there was no way to tell a "Good Samaritan" from a looter. This stressed people out even more. This website was then set up at the suggestion of Richard from the Business chambers (after driving into Batemans Bay for some very slow internet reception). Volunteers could sign up online and an online "Fire Impact" register was created to record who needed what. A volunteer named Reg arrived and helped me drive around, knocking on doors, seeing who was without power, water, shelter and who needed generators, water pumps, fresh water, basic tools, general help and specific trades. The paper forms were then entered into an online register and some residents filled them online. Samaritan's Purse, a Christian group then arrived and started helping clear dangerous trees. We were able to send them to many properties we had visited that had dangerous trees (this is kind of how I thought other aid organisations would use our database to get help where needed). More volunteers camped over the weekend and I would coordinate who went where and I guess that is where Greater Mogo Fire Recovery started. Diederick had to go back to work so it was just one person.
Volunteers were providing practical manual labour and were qualified tradesman offering their time for free. They would finish work in Sydney, drive 4 hours to Mogo, work in the heat non-stop all weekend, then drive back to Sydney Sunday night. And would repeat this the next weekend as they saw the difference they made to the residents whole demeanour, not just their properties. The destruction was so complete and widespread, people did not know where to start. The volunteers started, they made a visual impact. They shared some meals and the residents could tell them about what happened. I could barely recognise some of the residents after, they looked like new people and they had focus. For days at a time communication would go down again and driving was the only way of communicating with people. More evacuations, more fires, road closures, all while trying to communicate with volunteers in Sydney, find materials, accomodation and organise up to 15 volunteers. Back up plans of back up plans were the norm and quite a few volunteers ended up staying in Batemans Bay some days because it was too dangerous to do any work or be on remote properties with no communication.
It soon became clear that little practical help was getting to residents and there were many still without any essential services weeks after the fires. Some had cash sums from the aid agencies but an elderly couple cannot contact their insurance agency or call a tradesman with no landline or phone reception. Trades were too busy anyway and supplies were back ordered for months (3 months for a water tank). Even if they did get through to their insurance, trades were not allowed onsite due to dangerous trees etc. So even as power was restored to the street, they remained not connected from the their house to the grid.
Help door-knocking was offered by Rotary and more streets were covered. GMFR became more of a "welfare check", seeing if people were OK as well as collecting information on which residents still had no power, water or shelter. This was not what we wanted or intended to do, we were only trying to see where best to send volunteers and essentials such as generators and water pumps. Mental health requests would be passed onto the Crisis mental health team. No-one wanted the rest of our information.
I called my best friend in Hawaii who arrived 2 days later. A heat wave was about to hit and I was driving around trying to make sure elderly residents had generators that were working, that they had petrol and fresh water inside their homes (most tank water was contaminated).
Jasmine and I continued helping as many as we could with our limited resources. We had $5,000 from Rotary on an account at Cameron's Hardware and the amazing volunteers. But also the amazing generosity of those on social media, with some of the volunteers sourcing huge numbers of vital supplies like emergency 1000L IBC water tanks that were then dropped to residents on our database.
There ended up being a register of 72 residents with two people on the ground trying to co-ordinate groups of 12 volunteers every weekend. Week-days were spent driving around assessing properties, speaking with residents, contacting our whole database about water drops and town meetings (this alone would take 2 days as we needed to drive to those without phones), arranging materials and then attending town meetings, pleading for help.
So that is our story, we are not an aid agency, we are not professionals, just two residents and one Hawaiian volunteering months of our time and sanity. You can read the "Critical Ground Reports" to see the progress of the recovery effort so far.
If you are from an aid or government agency (especially mental health) look at our photos and watch the videos. See what we all experienced and what it looks like off the main roads. Then you will see the reality of what has been happening here and understand better than I can possibly explain what needs to be done.
Those who need help most have not asked or seeked it out and will not. Don't thank us for what we have been doing, do what we have been doing.
Knock on every resident's door, take the information residents need to them. Offer them help, don't wait for them to ask. Show up on their doorstep and say "this is what we can do for you.... here is all the info on access to mental health help, the latest from NSW cleanup etc. I will be back next week to update you and again offer you help and accurate information, you do not have to seek it out."
See, watch, listen. it is obvious when you see people on their properties, in their situation, what can be done to help them. They then don't have to "prove" their need, you will see it. It is usually not anything huge or resource heavy and just a matter of matching up the right people. All the reps have come to the town meetings which is fantastic. But there is always this moment after they have spoken, when they want to give someone all their flyers and information...... who takes the stack of flyers?...... and they give them to me. "Community led recovery" cannot rely on exhausted residents to organise things or get info to residents.
We have been operating as a "disaster relief organisation" only because no-one else was. I'm tired. Diederick's tired. Jasmine is tired. Look at and watch what we have been through.
From Rebecca, a very tired resident of Mogo.