Friday, 7 October 2016

Flooding, Florida, and photos from the archives.

Hi everyone,

After last night's late finish, it's been another day of anxiously scanning the weather (in a number of places) and propping myself up with coffee.  I didn't sleep late.

On the weather front, we should get a couple of days respite from rain.  The Broken River peaked today and the Goulburn should peak overnight.  Hopefully they drop a bit before the next surge of water comes through.  We had one SES job today.  You remember the other day how we took the boat up the river to check on the homeless people camping near the Causeway?  We went back again this afternoon to check whether any needed evacuating or to be given some sort of supplies of food and water.  Happily(?) everyone seemed to have decamped to higher ground.  Certainly most of the camps were anything up to knee deep in water.

A friend of mine who lives in Florida shared today some good photos of people filling sandbags in that State ahead of Hurricane Matthew.  I was struck by how orderly and businesslike it seemed, and it reminded me of the motto of the New South Wales SES: "The Worst in Nature - The Best in Us".  Whether people were getting resources to protect themselves or others, keeping calm and methodical in the face of a catastrophe is the most superhuman of traits.

Photo: Sandbagging in Lakeland, Fl.   Photo: We are bagging sand here in Lakeland,Fl.
Images from here and here

I had a quick poke around on the National Archives of Australia and noticed how cyclones as far back as 1908 brought out the most inventive side of local administrators in mustering resources and personnel, obtaining information and providing whatever relief could be arranged.  Police were sent to patrol on pearling luggers; local fishers and pearlers were mined for information, and people were never left to wonder if they'd been forgotten about

NAA: A1, 1908/7324
National Archives of Australia: A1, 1908/7324

(The documents containing the story have been digitised - have a look; it's worth reading).

I don't suppose disasters have become much worse (pace climate change).  Perhaps by becoming more sophisticated we have become both more able to respond to disasters and less able to withstand them.  The modern age did not begin with the digital revolution: a seaplane and a telephone system are hardly insignificant pieces of engineering but were susceptible to being damaged in a cyclone.

NAA: A1200, L61553
Wrecked Seaplane after cylone, Darwin 1937
National Archives of Australia, A1200, L61553

Both things, however, were part of a world where even damage to hospital might be fixed with a hammer and sheets of iron.  But perhaps this is all to make too much of things: the lesson from disasters past is that recovering from a disaster is a matter of deeds, not words.  The sooner people are willing to fill sandbags, fix rooves and shore up levees, the quicker life can return to normal.

NAA: A1, 1937/4701 PHOTO 38
Darwin Leper station hospital buildings after Cyclone at Darwin March 1937
National Archives of Australia: A1, 1937/4701 PHOTO 38

Anyone can talk about wanting to help.  Talk is easy.  But actually helping is easier than people sometimes think too: it just needs you to find a good set of boots and pull on some overalls.

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