Sunday 8 February 2009

Disaster and Terror in Australia this weekend

It's been up to anywhere between 110 and 120 degrees (Fahrenheit) in recent days in many parts of Australia, especially in the southeastern states of New South Wales and Victoria where the weather - and a few criminal arsonists - have caused hundreds of fires to break out yesterday, Saturday, with many continuing today.

Some whole towns have exploded into flames as the fire raced through - literally wiped them off the map in a matter of minutes. People have had to literally run for their lives, and in some cases are burnt inside their own fleeing cars. As of publishing this on Sunday late afternoon, 65 lives have been lost, but many more injured - this is terror and devastation of unimaginable proportions. (Check out the links I mention at the end, to get some idea...)

Some parts of northern Queensland have, in contrast, been inundated by rain for days, resulting in major flooding in many sectors, but with similar results: loss of lives and widespread destruction.

They are saying on the news that Australia is suffering the worst consequences from these natural disaster(s) in its recorded history. Most of this is being attributed to climate change.

Pray for us in this land. I imagine many emergency workers and hospital personnel (especially the chaplains) will be operating in "disaster mode" for some time to come. I heard this afternoon that some emergency crew members and firefighters in Victoria have lost their own family members. Our lead pastor at our congregation in Canberra has a brother living near Melbourne whose house has burned down.

Everyone seems to have a connection with someone affected by all this since there are only 21 million people in this country - about 7% of the population of the United States - though Australia is roughly equivalent in land mass to the 48 contiguous states.

I write this Sunday afternoon, so I have not yet had contact with some of my new chaplain friends from the areas where all this conflagration is happening -- fine people I had the privilege to get to know during our national conference held just a week earlier in Hobart, Tasmania. Many burn victims are currently being admitted to the main hospitals in that region where they serve. Carole Anne and I drove through some of the very areas affected by fire to the north of Melbourne on Tuesday this week, just five days before these fires broke out.

Our hearts are heavy, but we are safe here in Canberra, at least for now. It is only about 100 degrees during the day here for the last few days and does cool down to about 85 or 90 at night - but it's very dry heat - at least not the sort of humidity we had back in Indiana. It's hard to fully enjoy the annual National Multicultural Festival held here in Canberra, which began Friday evening and runs all this week.

Here are a couple of links to get folks up to speed on what is happening, newspaper articles and clips from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, the later of which is based in Melbourne and one of the best sources of information in the country.

Many stories of heroism and grace are starting to emerge, as well. Here is one worth listening to, a live-on-the-radio (hook-up via mobile phone) description of an extremely tense and dramatic rescue from a house about to burn with women and children in it by an 18 year-old brother driving a tractor, when no other rescue equipment nor personnel were yet available.



  1. Claire we'll be praying for the people in your region and your ministry to and with them there.

    We missed you at the APC conference in Orlando- I was cardinalized into the OPD and dubbed "Cardinal Dancing Fool." It was a great time with a group of fun and caring friends.

    Peace & prayers,

    John Olsen
    Abington, PA USA

  2. There has been a lot of news on TV and newspapers about the fires. I hope things are feeling somewhat better now. Very sad images from TV. : (