CDT Chair update - December

Committee of Doctors in Training Chair Dr Elise Witter talks about returning to Cairns after Tropical Cyclone Jasper.

It’s been a challenging few weeks up in Far North Queensland where I practice. After Christmas preparations were interrupted by category 2 cyclone Jasper, unprecedented rainfalls have led to widespread flooding and devastation in the region. The airport ended up looking more like a sea port, with hundreds of people stranded on their rooves and thousands without power over this past weekend. Having just returned from overseas, with my return flight rescheduled three times due to the weather, I arrived into monsoonal rains and watched the news and local Facebook groups light up with flooded homes and pleas for help to evacuate with horror. Entire farms of cattle were washed away as the dams exceeded their capacity and spilled into the surrounding regions. A group of my colleagues sent regular harrowing updates from a home near the Barron River, where nine of them had become stranded with limited food and water and no electricity as floodwaters rose rapidly around them, preventing their egress.  

Like many Cairns locals who are fortunate to live in a 'white zone' outside of flooding range, I immediately offered up my spare bedroom to anyone displaced via social media. For every post pleading for help or for someone to conduct a welfare check, there were ten more people offering support. Locals fired up their own tinnies and joined SES retrieving people stranded in floodwaters and strangers broke into houses to rescue trapped pets and people. A callout from a local animal rescue that was flooding led to all the dogs being fostered within hours. Local restaurants offered hundreds of free meals to SES and those who have no power. As the floodwaters have receded, there has been a different kind of inundation – hundreds of donations of clothes, food, non-perishables and Christmas gifts that have overwhelmed collection centres around the region. Armies of volunteers are rolling up their sleeves and pulling out their mop buckets to aid the clean up.  

It's difficult to describe the devastation of these horrendous events, where people have lost their homes, livestock and livelihoods. The physical and psychological damage will endure long after the water has receded. Despite this, locals have responded with incredible community spirit and heartwarming generosity, demonstrating the strength of human connection and kindness in the face of adversity. While many people in Cairns will be facing a very different Christmas to the one they had anticipated, the spirit of Christmas is evident in the overwhelming community response to these floods. I’ve never been prouder to live and work in the Cairns community, and I’m sure the recovery will occur as the initial response has – working together with each other to support the community.   

Wishing everyone a safe and dry Christmas, and a very happy New Year.   

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