Many Australians hit by fires still living in precarious conditions

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In the terrible fires that ravaged Australia, many people lost everything. A few months later, they still live in tents, garages or makeshift shelters, a situation made worse by coronavirus.

On the southeast coast of Australia, Anita Lawrence and her five children are trying to protect themselves from the cold weather that is beginning to break in the southern hemisphere in a sheet metal shelter.

She was in Tasmania when the fires destroyed the materials for building her new home.

“Everything is gone,” said the 51-year-old mother, standing near the charred trees.

Australia experienced fires of exceptional magnitude and duration in late 2019 and early 2020 that forced thousands of people to find makeshift shelters.

This disaster sparked a huge outpouring of generosity around the world as well as promises from the government.

But six months later, like this mother, who lives six hours away from Sydney, many people remain in a precarious situation.

“When you come back, there is so much destroyed that everything is difficult,” told AFP Ms. Lawrence installed since February in this temporary shelter.

Since March, due to the containment established to fight against the coronavirus, she no longer teaches gardening in a school, as she did a few days a week.

She managed to feed her family by drawing on her retirement savings.

The 50-year-old, however, received the support of David Crooke, a local resident who, with his team, built an extension of his temporary accommodation.

Thanks to him, she now has a bathroom, heating and a bedroom.

In recent months, Mr. Crooke’s small team, funded by the New South Wales state government, the Red Cross and donations, has built shelters for those who have lost everything.

“There are places that have been completely wiped out,” he said.

“Slow and difficult”

He himself lost his house during the fires he spent his summer fighting.

Since then, he has camped in increasingly difficult conditions, moving from one place to another, to help build temporary housing.

But his equipment is obsolete and the materials are lacking, complicating the task of his team physically and emotionally tested.

“No member of my team really owns anything (…) we work on a small week basis, we depend a lot on our pay”.

Throughout the region, however, life seems to begin to take over in the middle of the landscape desolate by the flames. But it’s “slow and difficult,” said Wayne Keft, 66.

His house, located in Cobargo, was destroyed by “a fireball”. Now he lives in a garage.

Aid for fire victims stopped flowing when global attention turned from forest fires to the coronavirus epidemic.

“The machine was very well oiled, then the Covid-19 struck, and it sort of stopped the donations,” said Hatcher, coordinator of the logistics team in charge of donations on the south coast.

Because of the virus, many associations have lost volunteers, leaving residents traumatized without any moral support, he deplores.

Tourism being prohibited until June 1 at least, this deprives this State of its main source of income.

Without wages, it is almost impossible for local businesses to obtain a loan to finance the reconstruction.

After the fires, Lorena Granados and her husband set up a stand in front of what was left of their leather goods store, which had gone up in smoke.

They have since moved to a temporary room hoping to go up the hill thanks to their business.

“We really weren’t prepared to lose our house and our business in a day,” she says.

The virus has slowed down their activity considerably but they are determined to fight back.

“Selling just one small item every day encourages us to keep going.”

05/25/2020 11:23:42 –
Cobargo (Australia) (AFP) –
© 2020 AFP

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