Thursday, 12 February 2009
A mixed day - the aftermath
Although the fire danger is lessening, with cooler weather and some rain, more details of the deaths and destruction continue to arrive. This morning the death tally had not risen officially, but there are many more to be confirmed, and victims must be identified. There is the possibility that some bodies may never be identified, or that some bodies may not be discovered. The total number of burnt houses is well over one thousand now. It seems that some, perhaps many, fires may have bit deliberately lit, and there is outrage and anger that such destruction may have been caused by arsonists stupidly and callously indifferent to the consequences of their actions. To most of us it is incomprehensible.
There is debate about whether people could have been warned sooner, or whether they should have been more cautious and evacuated earlier. It seems certain that the fires, fuelled by the changes in wind directions, came incredibly quickly, and that many people simply did not have time to flee. Roads were blocked very quickly by fires and falling trees, and safe areas would have been quite far away. Many of those who tried to escape died in their cars. The images of so many incinerated and crashed cars are dreadful. The survivors are brave and stoical.
There has been the most incredible, generous and warm-hearted response to the plight of the victims. Money has poured in to the various appeals. I think the total so far is over $50 million. In addition to donations by individuals, and businesses, many organisations are putting on special functions and events to help raise money. My choir met last night and passed around a bucket, which gathered $550, and at the concert I went to on Tuesday night collection baskets were everywhere. This sort of thing is happening everywhere. Donations of clothes, toys, food, blankets, caravans, accommodation are accumulating quickly, and it will be a huge task to distribute goods and money to people. It seems even the Queen has given money - as indeed one would think she should. There is to be a national day of mourning.
I find it wonderful and something to be very proud of that we as a people have responded in this way, just as we did to the victims of the tsunami.
The anti-greens have started blaming the greens, and forest conservation practices, which in recent years have opposed controlled burnings to reduce the amount of undergrowth. Others see the fires as a result of climate change. Many of us cannot know who is right. Maybe a bit of both. Perhaps we need to blend viewpoints instead of seeing things as black and white. Questions should be asked and answers sought, and much thinking and planning will have to take place. If such fires are likely to happen more frequently - and these are the worst in out history - we must work out how to avoid and mitigate their effects. Research and debate must be rigorous, and based on knowledge and not bias.
There has been some media coverage which has turned my stomach - cases where reunions of families have taken place with cameras encircling them only an arms length away, photographing close ups of weeping and emotional faces. There needs to be some reserve shown by media and onlookers, and to respect privacy.
The weather here is cool and we have just had a heavy shower. Apparently the hot weather will soon recur.