Fires ravage state of Victoria
Monday, February 9, 2009
This morning ( February 9), Ian Adnams, editor of The Canadian Lutheran, e-mailed Linda MacQueen, editor of The Lutheran, the Lutheran Church of Australia’s magazine, to find out if the current fires in the state of Victoria were affecting the Lutheran church.
Here is her reply:
Thanks for your concern for us Aussies. The whole country is in a state of shock. You have to understand that it is unusual for even one person to die in bushfires here. We Aussies understand fires and know how to protect ourselves. And the people in these affected areas were especially fire-savvy—they did everything right. It’s just that this was a freak fire storm of proportions no-one could have imagined. Still no-one can imagine it…
I covered the fires in South Australia a few years ago which affected many Lutherans. It was a horrific fire; its ferocity chilled me to the bone; nine people died. So I cannot begin to imagine what sort of fire kills 170-plus people—all of whom lived in fire-prone areas and knew what to do to protect themselves. Flames 10 stories high and travelling at 90-100kph; fire balls exploding in the sky; suffocating smoke and dust clouds that make it black as night, heat that melts car tires so people cannot escape—can you imagine that? They call them fire storms. They generate their own power. This one was a fire hurricane. The premier of Victoria said, “We were prepared for a king tide, but we got hit by a tsunami.”
In terms of natural disasters that happen elsewhere in the world, 170 people dead (so far) is a small number of fatalities, but for us Aussies who know how rare it is for people to die in bushfires, which are part of our way of life, it’s something that has rocked us to our core. We simply cannot conceive of anything so monstrous. It’s completely beyond our imagination. It’s far and away our worst natural disaster ever.
Ironically, 60 percent of the state I live in, Queensland, is currently under water. It’s a monumental flood, but it’s barely making the news because of the situation in Victoria.
So far as I have been able to make out, no Lutherans or Lutheran communities have been directly affected by the fires. That area of Victoria is not a strong ‘Lutheran belt’. However, I will be on the phone again this morning to see if there is any news.
In terms of relief, the Red Cross here is coordinating relief efforts, and they are pretty much saying to just send money. There are about 3,000 people homeless, but that is not a huge number in the overall scheme of things, and most will be taken care of by relatives.
What troubles me most is that people who have lost their home, property, animals and possibly their family members aren’t being allowed to go back ‘home’ until the police and forensic people have sifted through all the ruined houses and identified bodies. Perhaps this is wise, but it’s cruel too. I think there is a natural desire to go back and sift through the rubble of your life yourself, not have somebody else do it, even if it means finding the body of your wife or child. For example, there was a man featured on the news yesterday, desperate to find his wife and three children. He wanted to go back to see if he would find them. The poor man was hysterical, as you could imagine. This morning the police told him they found three bodies (and possibly nine) in the ashes of his home. “Possibly nine”… that is the sort of thing the emergency services are dealing with. People were incinerated, not merely burnt. They think neighbours must have gone to his house for refuge, since his was considered to be one of the most bushfire-proof – with a watering system installed in the roof. But this was no ordinary bushfire.
I suppose I can understand why they are not letting people go back. The identification of bodies will be so difficult, and the forensic people need time to do their job properly—and the trauma of discovering bodies of their loved ones, charred beyond recognition, or simply ashes, might be just too much for survivors. I suppose they are doing the right thing, but it is so hard for these people who are so desperate to find out what has happened to their loved ones.
It’s a shocking time to be an Aussie. This has really rocked us.
Thanks again for your concern. It does mean a lot to be part of an international Lutheran family that cares for us.
Lutheran Church–Canada President Robert Bugbee is asking pastors and members of LCC congregations to remember in your prayers those fighting the fires and those who have lost so much. Ask the Lord to give the firefighters the skills to quell the flames, and that He would bring into the lives of those who are suffering, men and women who can share with them the comfort and peace only Christ can give.