Mood: Very Very Sad
As rural Victoria is gripped by the worst bushfires in history, I have tried to keep abreast of the latest news through all the media, all the while fighting back tears and failing miserably.
The media outlets had been covering the news of bushfires throughout last week. Australia has been through some bushfires before – some bad, some really bad, but bushfires are a way of life in Australia. From late November every year, people start preparing for bushfire season. I remember years ago – in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when there were 2 summers where the bushfires in Sydney came close enough to our home to warrant some concern. I well recall seeing embers and ash floating down from the skies and racing about stamping them out.
It was with some complacency that I didn’t follow the news of the bushfires over the weekend closely enough. After all, there are always bushfires raging somewhere during the Australian summer, and as we had been expecting heatwave conditions in Sydney, J and I were more worried about keeping cool and staying hydrated throughout the weekend than what was happening in the news.
For most of Saturday, the TV was off. We read and enjoyed the cool air from the fans while sipping Pimms and lemonade on the comfy couch. For most of Saturday, we were oblivious to what was going on in the southern state.
Imagine my horror when I read the paper on Sunday that 14 people were confirmed dead in the Victorian bushfires.
As J had M for a day visit, we had plenty on the agenda for the day. At some stage, I’d heard the death toll had hit 40. M commandeered the radio for much of the afternoon with her choice of music (Captain Bandanna’s Just Imagine was played over and over again), and by the time we arrived home, all we wanted was relative silence.
The TV was finally turned on at around 9.30pm. The cricket was just finishing and there was a special news bulletin on Ch 9 about the bushfires. I thought it was time I caught up on the news, as special bulletins usually did not bode well.
Imagine my horror when the newsreader announced the official death toll stood at 84.
My body went numb. My stomach turned a little. I had to swallow hard to not vomit. It was just horrendous.
For much of the next hour, I sat and watched the news, and cried. Having never seen me cry over news items, J did the only thing there was to do – he put down his book and put his arms around me. Holding me, he tried his best to comfort me through my racking sobs.
The pictures on the news showed huge areas devastated by fire – house after house burned to the ground, clusters of burnt out cars on the side of the road. These cars had loads of collision damage, most likely sustained whilst the drivers were all trying to get away from the fires. I prayed the occupants got out.
I watched a replay of a press conference held by the Victorian Premier John Brumby. When he broke down, I lost it too.
It was hard getting to sleep last night. I had some weird dreams, which I didn’t mention to J this morning – it was better this way. In my dream, I was trying to drive through thick fog/smoke, and I was using a concrete barrier to navigate. But the concrete barrier was too bendy and I was taken further and further into thicker fog/smoke. I slowed down in an attempt to not crash into other cars, and only narrowly missed some cars which were also using the concrete barrier to navigate their way out of the fog/smoke.
We woke this morning to more updates from Victoria. And the news could not have been worse. As at 8am, 108 men, women and children had perished in the fires. I could barely choke down my coffee this morning as I watched Mel lose her composure time and again on Sunrise – every time her voice wavered, I’d start crying.
After dropping J at work, I returned to watch more coverage from the Sunrise team. And I kept crying. Devastating is the only word that keeps rolling around in my head when I think about the horror faced by so many.
Then news came that some of the fires were deliberately lit. I was and remain completely disgusted and appalled by this fact. I am so angry and upset by the callousness of these idiots that I want to catch them and stab them and then set them on fire. For want of a better phrase, I want those who deliberately started those fires to burn in hell.
The Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has called the arsonists "mass murderers". The Federal Attorney-General has supported Rudd’s view and told Parliament that "anyone who lights fires deliberately, with reckless disregard for the safety of their fellow Australians, in our view establishes the requisite criminal intent that would sustain a charge of murder".
Late this afternoon, the number of people confirmed to have perished in the fires reached 131.
The events have hit everyone hard. There is tangible sadness etched on the faces of everyone who has had to deliver news items about the fires, or hold press conferences to brief the public. From newsreaders to politicians, no one can hold back the flood of emotions and sadness caused by this awful atrocity. And I continue to cry with them as I helplessly watch the news unfold.
I’ve made a small donation to the Australian Red Cross Victorian Bushfire Appeal. It isn’t a huge donation, but I sincerely hope my $200 will go some way towards helping the good people of Victoria.
Updated on 10/02/2009 @ 11.47am
The human toll continues to rise. As at 7.15am this morning, the official figure stands at 173. May their souls rest in peace.
Updated on 11/02/2009 @ 5.55pm
The figure has risen to 181 but authorities are expecting the final toll to exceed 300. On a brighter note, the generosity of Australian has been overwhelming, with over $40M raised since the start of the Bushfire Appeal. I’m so pleased.
On Monday next week, I’ll be heading to the Blood Donation Centre in Chatswood to give blood. I tried to get an appointment to donate blood this week, but it seems at lot of others have the same idea as me, and Monday morning was the first available appointment. The stats are amazing – Red Cross has fielded over 20,000 calls for appointments to donate blood in the last 3 days, where under normal circumstances they would have expected 120 in the same period. Go you good thing, Aussies.
Updated on 12/02/2009 @ 10.35am
I’m so proud to be an Aussie. The Australian Red Cross Victorian Bushfire Appeal has exceeded $50M in donations. I hope the donations keep pouring in, as the victims will need every cent they can get to rebuild their lives.