March 21st 2013
Magnetic SES volunteer does us proud
A nation watched in awe and anguish in February this year as the city of Bundaberg went beneath the most massive flood in the town’s known history. With thousands evacuated and hundreds of homes laid waste the eventual clean-up was going to be massive. But in the proudest of Australian traditions others came to lend a hand. One of them was a Magnetic Island State Emergency Service volunteer, with a surname to suit her task: Allison Hope.
With the tiny Island SES struggling again to find locals interested enough to spend one evening a fortnight to learn some excellent practical skills and how to protect our community when nature turns nasty or accidents cause major or minor havoc, we thought it would be worth talking to Allison about her Bundaberg experience and her interest in working with the Magnetic Island SES.
Allison was part of a massive relief army of volunteers who followed after the “Mud Army” of helpers who scraped and shovelled at the massive deposits of river mud left in so many of Bundaberg’s homes.
For five days Allison went house to house and, mostly, pulled up stinking sodden carpets and moved furniture.
“Many people were in shock. I don’t think they really understood what was going on around them. It’s hard to imagine how it must be when everything you have owned and worked for and all your personal possessions have, likely, washed out to sea.”
“My job was working with a team in the homes with residents. It was very important to be respectful and instead of seeing just so much filthy rubbish to remove, we would always ask the owner if we could take particular possessions away.”
“We also had to be very conscious of disease and not to accidentally wipe
our faces with the mud on our gloves. There was no telling what sorts of germs and contaminants were in that water.”
Allison saw many shocking things - many of which we saw on television. Like the house that was left grounded on the road at an intersection. “One of the most unexpected sights was that of homes which had simply subsided down to their rooflines”.
One of the major problems of the flood was the reluctance of North Bundaberg residents to evacuate when they had time. This led to mass strandings and a huge helicopter evacuation effort. Allison spoke to locals who told her, “In the last big flood the water only came to the bottom of our street,” they considered themselves safe, but when this flood peaked the same people had metres of water rushing through their homes.
Allison, who is the SES’s Bay Leader in Picnic Bay has been a member of the Magnetic Island SES since 1996. One of the skills she has learned in that time is radio communications (indispensable when mobiles and landlines fail after a cyclone). But at the core of the groups’ training is safety. “There is lots to learn about safely working with people, particularly when using chainsaws and other equipment. We learn rope skills and how to tarp houses after trees have damaged roofs. I don’t go onto roofs myself but there is plenty to do on the ground - so you don’t need to be super fit,” said Allison.
“We sometimes have to make difficult calls, such as whether it will be less damaging and safer for a crane to be brought in to remove a tree or for us to bring it down in the best location.”
“The Island team are good people to work with and safety is ingrained into everyone. With Cyclone Yasi we had support from SES crews from Charters Towers, Pentland, the Northern Territory, Mackay and other towns so there is that group support from outside - just as I went to Bundaberg when they needed help.
Group Leader Murray Withers told Magnetic Times, “The group is looking for new members, with a comprehensive training program about to start. If any resident feels they would like to join our group, and help the community, contact me on 0437188991. We need to build our group so that it can be self sufficient for the wild weather events, that have been occurring of late.”
The group trains fortnightly at the SES shed on Kelly Street in Nelly Bay on Wednesdays for 2 hours from 7.00 p.m.
Story and photo: George Hirst
In the photo at top are: (From left: John Austin, Jody McLaughlin, Hugh Strickland, Allison Hope, Remy Schaefer, Francoise Schaefer and Group Leader, Murray Withers