Our goal is to gather a register of what can be done to help our residents that have been affected by the fires and then use all the resources available to us to get it done. This includes temporary solutions while waiting for insurance claims to be processed etc.
There is a lot of well intentioned help being offered to our area at the moment however there is little organisation, focus or clear communication. We hope to resolve this by having a register for volunteers as well as for residents who have skills, tool, time etc. to help rebuild their community.
This group is organised by:
Volunteer from Hawaii supporting her friends in Mogo
Our Story / Mogo's story - read, watch and listen
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:
Some residents received the text message to evacuate and head to the beach at 6am, by then the smoke was already overhead and you could see the fire in the West. There were 2 initial fire fronts that roared through early in the morning from west to east from 7am. The northern front crossed to the north of Mogo, across Woodlands and Malua Bay, stopping at the ocean. The southern front crossed south of Mogo, across Jeremadra and stopped at Broulee. 70 metre high fire tornadoes headed down Dunns Creek Road. The water from the RFS hoses evaporated before they got anywhere near the fires. It was 47 degrees with 80km/hr winds and dry lightning. The oils from the trees were igniting creating a white fireball that rolled ahead of the flames. It was pitch black by 11:30am. The heat and smoke burned your lungs on every breath. Those 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. This 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 other essentials.
No emergency services, 000 did not work.
Tomakin Club, the evacuation centre, was evacuated.
No access to hospital, pharmacy or medical services, no ambulance. All roads in and out of town were blocked by downed trees.
SES trucks and RFS trucks also then ran out of petrol.
It was a war zone.
Days of smoke haze and the roar of water bombing aircraft and helicopters above. The spot-fires would glow at night.
No communication between each other or the outside world.
No-one showered and barely slept for a week. 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 UHF 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 temporary 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. Leaving your property was always a gamble as falling trees, new fires, road closures or evacuations meant there was no way to know when you could return.
A group of French and German volunteers travelled down from Sydney on 19th of Jan and 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, drive 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, don't wait for the victims to come to you, and then make them "prove" their need. Go and assess/ visit them on their properties and you will see their actual situation. Take the actuate information about the help available directly to them, don't make them seek it out. You can then assess the actual scope of the disaster and respond appropriately. You cannot say you have responded appropriately if you don't actually know the demographics of the disaster or how people have been affected.
"Community led recovery" does not work when the entire community is affected. All the government and NGO 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.
From Rebecca, a very tired resident of Mogo. (Written in February)