Community spirit shines in Mackay

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Queensland premier Anna Bligh with Red Cross Northern Rivers regional manager Vahideh Hosseini (far left) and other volunteers at the Magpie Recovery Centre in Mackay last week.Red Cross Northern Rivers regional manager Vahideh Hosseini with Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin when she visited the Magpie Recovery Centre in Mackay last week.

When Lismores Vahideh Hosseini arrived in Mackay a week ago to help victims of the severe flooding, she found herself looking at the worst catastrophe she had ever seen. And Vahideh is no stranger to disaster.

As the Northern Rivers regional manager of Red Cross, Vahideh travelled to Innisfail in 2006 after the cyclone to help with the recovery effort, but says not even that could compare with what she saw in Mackay last week.

On February 15 more than 625mm of rain fell on the town in just five hours, the heaviest rainfall ever seen in Mackay and possibly in Australia. It left 4000 people homeless and a town struggling to care for those displaced.

The water had receded by the time I arrived but there was debris everywhere... household items just lying on all sides of the street. It was the worst flood damage I had ever seen, Vahideh said. Houses were destroyed and sewage lines had broken the smell was overpowering and there were insects and mosquitoes everywhere.Many people were sick and suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting. I had been briefed extensively but nothing prepares you for the reality.

Vahideh co-ordinated a team of 30 workers, who visited hundreds of stricken families to provide information, care and comfort.

She said despite the the fact that people will bear the emotional and financial costs for years to come she was amazed by the generosity of people towards their fellow residents.

It was a very traumatic time for these people... you could see a flood of devastation but also a flood of kindness, she said. There was tremendous community spirit people who were displaced from their homes were putting their own feelings aside to help the worst affected. The agencies were working day and night to alleviate suffering and the teamwork was just incredible to witness. It was very humbling.

She said the recent flood in Kyogle was a good example of why it was vital to have trained people on hand to help during times of disaster.

Luckily we had 20 people trained in Kyogle who we immediately activated but if the flood had been any bigger it would have been hard to cope, Vahideh said. It is only natural that people want to help each other during a disaster but if people havent been trained they dont have the adequate skills to systematically handle the problem.

The Red Cross holds regular personal support training, which gives people the necessary skills to respond to a major incident, and more volunteers are always needed. If youd like to get involved, phone the Red Cross on 6622 3244.

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