Australia — Being trapped by bushfires, with no power or water, was not enough to put Elaine Rewi off Tasmania, after her holiday turned to a horror experience.
The Masterton woman travelled to Hobart this month as part of a nine-day holiday with her sister Nola and niece Wendy.
While driving to Port Arthur on January 4, the trio stopped at a service station and were told to get out of town as fast as they could – the fires had started.
They drove back to Nubeena and went to the Tasman Civic Centre, which had been set-up as an emergency evacuation centre.
Evacuees were being warned to jump into the water by the peninsula, about two or three minutes’ drive away, if the fires came over a nearby hill. Thankfully, the situation never became that drastic.
“You could almost see the flames in the clouds,” Mrs Rewi said. “It was all pretty horrendous.”
Mrs Rewi said there would have been up to 4000 people in the centre at one stage. “There were people lining the streets … nobody knew where to go,” she said.
“Everybody started coming in and I thought ‘heck, where are we all going to sleep?”
The family were prepared to sleep in their car that first night, but were approached by a local who offered them a spare room.
That marked the start of a three-day ordeal in a town under seige from the fires.
“There was no power or water,” she said. “We were quite prepared for it … When we got there he only had a candle but we had a torch.”
She said the heat was unbearable. “We had the window open but the smoke was coming in.”
Each morning the women went to the centre, where police and state emergency services were updating those who were trapped.
The community and volunteers came together in force to provide food and necessities, with locals bringing in food from their own freezers.
“You couldn’t go anywhere to get food and nobody had power.”
She said the local Lions and the Rotary clubs especially did a great job of keeping everybody fed.
One farmer, who had lost all his chickens in the blaze, let the centre use his generator to help cook the food.
Despite his good intentions, the petrol was looted the next day and more had to be brought in by helicopter from Melbourne.
The next day, about 45 people were shipped out of the centre by ferry, although there was a catch – they had to abandon their cars.
Mrs Rewi said they were not willing to leave their hired car as many cars were looted and had the petrol taken.
“All you could do was just sit, have a coffee and all that sort of thing to pass the time away. You couldn’t go in your car and drive anywhere,” she said.
Hygiene also became an issue for evacuees. A school across the road opened their facilities for people to use, but soon ran out of water.
On the third day of isolation, the power poles which were blocking the roads had finally been removed, and they were able to safely leave. The trio joined the convoy of cars and after a two-hour wait, they were finally able to leave on January 7.
Although the spirit of the community had been dampened by a few, Mrs Rewi said most of the volunteers were “only too happy to help”.
“The work that the volunteers did was just amazing. I couldn’t praise them enough,” she said.
“In spite of it all, I loved Tasmania. It’s a beautiful place.”