In the darkest hours of our fire emergency, the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) became a weirdly calm island in a great sea of pain. The men and women working there were highly focused on the task at hand, their training and capability was something to behold.
I feel a deep sense of gratitude to all of our people and those who came from far and wide, who worked so hard to save life and property.
The incredible efforts to move food and supplies through the district to disconnected communities will never be forgotten; ordinary people doing extraordinary things!
I know so many people who evacuated their homes on multiple occasions, some having fought off damage and destruction a few times to ultimately lose against the beast that wasn't stopping.
Spending time with people at the evacuation center was my main concern, trying to bring what little comfort I could to distressed people.
The hardest days were facing the destruction across the Shoalhaven, knowing that lives had been turned upside down and that the road to recovery was going to be long - who knew a virus was going to throw a massive wrecking ball into all the plans that were being made. It may have slowed healing down somewhat, but we are not out yet!
This anniversary will be hard for those who lost loved ones and property, but in our reflections I hope we can find space for hope and gratitude. Our community has strengthened through bonds that have been forged in fire, we need to keep that alive for we will need it in the future.
Staying focused on the things we can control, supporting one another and finding ways to turn down the negative chatter are our challenge through this next little while.
The last 12 months for some have been hard work; physically and emotionally the scars run deep. We need to continue to support our people to seek professional mental health services. There is no weakness in this, we care for our physical selves, we need to care more for our mental and emotional health.
I need everyone to know that just because the virus is the headline, you are not forgotten, but if that is the overwhelming feeling you have, then please reach out to someone - your Council is there to help you find ways to recovery.
I also want to acknowledge those who are battling with insurance companies. This tiring work seems designed to wear you down, but please don't give up, and know that others are advocating for this system to change for the better.
One milestone that won't be forgotten was getting so much of the cleanup done and how that lifted the spirits of many. It has also been encouraging for all to see the rebuild begin and knowing that a few of our families are back in new homes before the year is out is incredible and gives others a good sense of what is possible.
My heartfelt thanks to all our emergency services who really never get a break, and coming into another summer season, you are our heroes.
What makes our Shoalhaven the remarkable place it is, YOU, each and everyone of you unite when the chips are down, draw strength from one another, find innovative ways to deal with challenges. I am immensely proud of our city, its 49 towns and villages filled with so much heart and soul.
We have what it takes, we just need to feel confidence in this knowledge and I am looking forward to the healing year ahead and I know we will make great inroads on our journey to recovery.
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