Exciting and positive news! Head of Disaster Recovery Dick Adams now has our full database of residents who have completed our Fire Impact Forms, ALL 72 OF THEM, and can see who needs to be assessed for essential services, who is still without essential services and who has requested mental health help such as a visit from a counsellor.
He has already had the Disaster Welfare Team contact those who have been unable to register at the Recovery Centre in Batemans Bay to get them registered and case workers assigned, 17 assigned in one day, go Dick! Hopefully they can get the assistance they need such as help reconnecting their homes back to the grid (power is back on all streets but many residents are not connected from their home to the street.)
Dave Newell from the Disaster Welfare Team will be working on our database and tracking new additions to ensure everyone is assigned a case worker and is signed up properly for NSW cleanup. This will be a great help and will ensure no-one falls through the cracks.
We are still pushing for basic welfare checks (including essential services) and Lifeline visits for all residents in Mogo, Jeremadra and Bimbimbie. Being on our database does not mean you get a welfare check. We do not have the resources and it is not our job (we are just a few locals). Registering at the Recovery centre and having a case worker also does not mean anyone comes to check or assess your situation on your property.
Current Mental Health Support: We have 2 volunteer counsellors working on our database when they can drive down from Sydney. Lifeline support is only available over the phone and not all residents have phone access (Telstra landlines are still not reconnected and many people still don't have mobile reception.) If a resident requests mental health support from the Recovery Centre they will send a Crisis mental health team member if they deem it necessary after a phone call. They will then check if the resident is suicidal and refer on if necessary. Sometimes they do not even contact the resident at all. What most residents need is counselling, someone to talk about their traumatic experience with, something that Lifeline provides in addition to assessing if they are a suicide risk. Seeing residents in their home, in the situation they are in, is vital to get an understanding of where they are at mentally and to offer appropriate advice and counsel. Currently the places offering 10 free sessions with a Psychologist have a 4 to 8 week wait time and are a long drive away. We need urgent mental health outreach into our community.
We notified Eurobodalla Council, the heads of all major aid agencies (Red Cross, Salvation Army etc), Andrew Constance and other Government reps that door-knocks and welfare checks on all residents were urgently needed by police / army / mental health teams during a meeting over 4 weeks ago.
On Wednesday the 19th of Feb we again told the same thing to Eurobodalla Council, Andrew Constance, other government representatives and mental health teams members. We said that after personally visiting over 50 residents on their properties, many were still without essential services and that we were concerned there was a serious mental health crisis emerging.
As of the 23rd of Feb there still has not been a door to door check on residents to see how the fire has impacted them with regards to basic essentials services such as power, water, phone lines etc or a door to door welfare check or mental health check.
We have been the only ones out in the community door-knocking residents. We are doing it to the best of our ability because no-one else is. Samaritans Purse has been the only other disaster relief group on the ground providing practical help to residents.
Read the full report below from 20th Feb
The government cannot provide an appropriate response to the current, unprecedented Bushfire Disaster when it does not have the correct data.
At the time of writing (Feb 20), the Australian government does not know the NYE Bushfire Disaster’s extent of physical damage, if residents have shelter, power or water, nor the toll it has taken and will continue to take on mental health. A mental health crisis is quickly shaping up. The firestorm on NYE was an event unparalleled in ferocity and scale, with a resulting “war-zone” that has lasted for six weeks in this area.
There is a reason for this void of critical information. To date, no government (or aid) agency has led an outreach into this community - no door to door check has been done, no one has personally visited residents to speak with them, see the scope of damage, and realize the extent to which lives have been impacted. Our resident-run volunteer bushfire relief group, Greater Mogo Fire Recovery (GMFR), has personally visited - and assessed - over 50 local residents to date, which is why we know the exact situation “on the ground”. That may not sound like a large number to you, however, it is 50 more than the government has managed, and we are only three 35-year-old civilians.
To our knowledge and with feedback from the community, the only valid local data since NYE that could be possibly be known by any external source (including the government) is this:
Number of structures and lives lost as of Jan 1 (an RFS Volunteer visited local properties to assess structure and life loss, noted on a yellow notepad; there has been no follow up to date)
Number of structures lost as of Jan 3 (a Sydney firefighter visited local properties to assess structure loss/damage noted on an iPad containing residents’ addresses; he did not inquire regarding the loss of life or follow up to date)
Number of properties with suspected dangerous materials from mid-Jan (NSW Public Works visited local properties to assess for asbestos; they did not speak to residents or follow up to date.)
The fires continued in force for many weeks after and were only considered “contained in NSW” on February 13. No valid data exists on how many residents are still without essential services such as power, water, shelter, landline phone, mobile, or mental health, much less loss of life including suicides. No government agency, politician or aid agency can say they have responded appropriately or are aware of the reality of the situation, because they do not have the information in order to honestly say that. We can only speak for the Greater Mogo Area, however, it is logical that the same is true elsewhere as all government works within the same framework.
Many residents here are still without access to critical essential services, seven weeks after the NYE Bushfire Disaster. Many residents including the elderly, still haven’t had their landlines restored by Telstra - seven weeks of no communication, in the worst disaster in recent Australian history. This is unacceptable, and only one of the many critical issues negatively impacting the quality of life and basic rights deserved by every Australian resident and citizen - and all during our greatest time of need.
We (GMFR) have done our best to collate as much information as possible, as our volunteers assist local bushfire-affected residents to rebuild/repair/replace practical and essential items such as water tanks, plumbing, power, fencing, sheds, shelter, and anything else they need. We all show up and do the work without pay, ignoring our own day jobs and gathering willing volunteers and donations from near and far - surely, the government and big aid agencies, all paid to do this very thing, could make a similar effort with more impact.
Residents need practical, immediate help from our government, the military, and big aid agencies. Cash handouts and counseling services provided via extensive form-filling at a single recovery center location is not a practical solution for the majority of residents: the elderly, those in a mental health crisis, those without vehicles, those without landlines, those who do not even have access to this knowledge. An informational flyer will not remedy this situation. We need manpower, resources, and meaningful politicians, and we need them now.
You can join our social media movement #GMFR on Facebook and Instagram and stay up to date with our volunteer stories (both accounts are labeled @GreaterMogoFireRecovery). If you are a government or aid agency, we welcome your direct contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.