Pharmacists share their experiences of being caught up in the recent bushfires and how they are supporting their local communities – including people who have lost everything
With eight people confirmed dead from bushfires that hit the NSW south coast last week, residents are starting to return to their homes in the area—or what may remain of them.
Communities were placed on high alert and many evacuated as deadly flames swept through the region starting on New Year’s Eve.
Telecommunications and power have been down for days, with businesses and health services struggling to cope.
“We’ve been trying to trade but it’s been really difficult without power,” said Patrick Jackson, co-owner and pharmacist in charge at Capital Chemist Batemans Bay.
“We’ve been just trading short hours in the dark. There’s so many people who have left their homes and their medicines, so we’ve been trying to sort them out, it’s been definitely challenging in the circumstances. A lot of people left in such a hurry – when their houses burnt down all their medicines burned [too].”
— Brendan Marshall (@BJPMarshall) January 1, 2020
The power came back on Monday night but only for some of the main businesses, with many suburbs still left with no electricity.
Nigel Todd, co-owner of Surf Beach Pharmacy, said the worst of the bushfires came through on New Year’s Eve.
“I live in Mollymook and drove down for the day, and drove into a big bunch of smoke,” Nigel told AJP.
His business partner, Sandro Lopresti, was “pretty seriously affected” by the fires that hit near his home in Broulee, with one house lost on the estate and “damage everywhere”.
“Malua Bay has been hammered, and all the areas out the back behind Malua Bay, between Malua Bay and Mogo – it is Armageddon out there.”
Canberra pharmacist Mark Naunton said he was caught up in the bushfires at Malua Bay, on the south coast of NSW, with his family including two young sons.
“It was harrowing,” said Mark, who at one point was evacuated to the local beach.
“Telecommunications went down on New Year’s Eve. We evacuated on Thursday 2 January and made it back home safely after an eight-hour drive to our house via the south.
“There were lots of cars waiting for fuel, and no diesel was available when we left.
“It is a day my family will not forget,” said Mark.
“We are glad we had a plan and didn’t panic but we certainly were on high alert. There were a lot of emotional people but also I saw the best of people – there was lots of support.”
Nigel said that now the power is back on for the pharmacy at Surf Beach, staff are trying to catch up with work.
“We opened on the 2 January with no power, and there was a lot of emergency scripts, a lot of just trying to make do. There were lots of people who had lost houses, lots of people who had lost close to everything just coming in and saying, ‘look I need help because no doctors are open’. There was nothing,” he said.
“We were just handwriting everything. There were lots of people not able to pay, so we had to have a lot of trust obviously and just say, ‘look you can just sort it out when you can, once you get back on your feet’.
“I managed to procure a generator – the main reason, to be honest, was just so we could power an iron so we could finish doing the Webster-paks for our nursing home that we service, because that obviously causes a bit of an issue if we can’t get them their medications on time,” said Nigel.
“Now we’ve got that issue with trying to get stock back in. A lot of courier companies haven’t been coming down with stock – we placed orders on the 30th and some of those still aren’t with us yet. One issue was we thought we would run out of methadone but luckily we managed to get some in yesterday.”
Back in Batemans Bay, Patrick says the community has “banded together” in difficult circumstances.
“One of the girls at work, her caravan burnt down and her mum’s house partially burnt down, one of the other girls lost her house, one of the pharmacists lost her house,” he said.
“It’s been difficult for people when we’ve been open for short hours but they’ve all been happy to get some medicines,” he said.
“Since our fridges went out we lost all our fridge stock. We put a huge order back in when the power came back on, and then the power went out the next day again so all that stock got ruined as well.”
However he praised the couriers that have been getting stock to the pharmacy constantly despite the circumstances, and expects to receive new cold chain stock tomorrow.
Nigel said the mood across the community is “one of resilience”.
“A lot of people have lost their houses – yes, they’re upset, really upset and still trying to get their bearings with their lives, but most of them are going, ‘we’re alive, we’re fine, and we’ll move on’,” he told AJP.
“So much of the town has already been burnt that the chance of it going up again or something catching on fire is slimmer, but there’s always a chance that something might flare up somewhere. So there is a lot of anxiety, but mainly resilience.
“The biggest thing at the moment is trying to get back on our feet, and it’s a bit hard to look forward at the moment but say, in four weeks’ time when things are hopefully getting back to ‘normal’ again, hopefully we’ll be able to get people back, get tourists back, get our bearings back.”