Monday, February 09, 2009

National mourning

As you can imagine, we're all in shock here in the Land of Aus. We have fires across four states, with the weather about to deteriorate again, and sixty percent of Queensland is flooded, with more rain on the way. The lower half of Australia is praying for rain to douse the fires; the northern part praying for sunshine to dry them out.

That's what this country is about - extremes; but this has been more extreme than we've had in decades, nay, ever.

At this stage, 126 have perished with over 750 houses lost. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue operations reach areas currently too dangerous to enter.

It wasn't as if people were unprepared; they were. It was the fire moved so fast. As one survivor said: "I could see the smoke a couple of kilometres away; then I got to my car and I could see flames."

The media have stopped mentioning the more awful of stories. Censored stories like the couple who could hear screaming up the street but could do nothing but save themselves. The survivors who drove past cars on fire with the knowledge of people trapped inside. Of blast furnace conditions that evaporated water before it hit the ground. Of the firefighter, trying to save homes and then discovering he'd lost his own home... and family. Of the couple who put all their valuables in the shed, knowing they would lose the house only to return to a safe house, but destroyed shed. The journalist who was on the phone to his wife as all around her burned, of the shock and tears in his voice as he described her screaming and hearing an appalling rushing noise. She survived where most did not. And of a beloved newsreader and his wife who perished in their home. The horror and grief is unimaginable.

There are so many tales of survival, of tragedy and loss. And it's not over. There are still more fires burning in Victoria, in South Australia, in Western Australia and here, in New South Wales.

I can smell the scent of wet, charred wood from the fire a couple of hundred kilometres to the south of here. But it's been raining along my part of the coast, dampening everything down. I feel a bit guilty complaining about the heat when it could have been much worse, and was devastating in Victoria.

Most citizens are pitching in to help, be it with skills, equipment or donations. People are coming together to assist those who have lost so much; the mobilisation of army units, the Red Cross and Salvation Army and ordinary people being there for the victims.

When it's all over, the houses and towns will be rebuilt. The bush will regenerate. But the tragedy will remain with us always.

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