gong hei fat choi

We should have known it was going to be a difficult day. We stood in the early morning heat at the hotel before seven, while taxis came and went. None of them were ours. We had to re-book several times before somebody would take us.

A second day of computer problems plagued us all day, making the simplest of operational processes a huge ordeal. The clever idea of the Queensland state government to centrally coordinate all emergency response travel to the cyclone-affected areas was a good one, but it meant we were one step further away from controlling the travel of our own people. Things moved so fast – and then so slowly – many people’s heads were spinning before noon.

We continued to struggle to keep our head in the various games we were presented with. Queensland is hurting from wave after wave (pardon the pun) of flooding and cyclone activity. Despite the urgency of response required along the Far North Queensland coast, we could not forget the previous weeks of activity and the recovery process people are struggling through in Brisbane, Ipswich, Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Emerald and so many other places. As well the ongoing threat to inland towns by the ex-cyclone as it winds down in intensity. Not to mention the Red Crossers in Victoria and other states staffing the National Inquiry Centre, answering calls from people registering as flood or cyclone affected, or taking calls from others seeking their loved ones.

What else could possibly happen?

By mid-afternoon more news started to reach us of wild weather in Victoria. The scenic town of Hall’s Gap in the Grampians has been evacuated this evening due to an imminent major landslide (rain-related, of course). As I write, Red Cross people are working in a relief centre now open in nearby Stawell. Local emergency services have already pre-positioned search-and-rescue teams, which is never an encouraging sign.

People in Mildura, in the far north-west of Victoria, have found themselves suddenly congregating in the high street, waist-deep in water from rain that fell over no more than an hour. Two relief centres have just been set up, with Red Cross in attendance.
A lot of western Victoria and central Melbourne is seriously flooding. They are predicting around 200mm of rain this evening across western and central Victoria, and Melbourne itself, but anything more than 100mm will bring most river systems back up to major flood level. The water is less than three houses away from some colleagues who live by the bay very close to central Melbourne. Motorists on the St. Kilda Road were over their wheel arches in floodwaters this evening.
Meanwhile in Queensland, not forty-eight hours after the height of Cyclone Yasi, the Red Cross deployments continued along the coast today. We are also watching Alice Springs in NT very closely: it is under a severe weather warning as ex-cyclone Yasi continues inland.

Oh, yes, and Adelaide Red Cross were only stood down from a heatwave response on Monday, and WA are still working on long-term recovery outreach operations following the floods in Carnarvon in December.

So a few colleagues and I went out for a quick bite to eat on the way home. We ended up in a Chinese place across the road from the Red Cross offices. Halfway through our meal, the noise began. What else could possibly go wrong tonight? Suddenly, the crashing and banging made sense, as two huge Chinese dragons entered the restaurant. Gong Hei Fat Choi, everybody! It’s Chinese New Year! We just hadn’t realised. The packed restaurant clapped and cheered as the dragons came in and terrorised us, dancing and prancing and chasing little children (much to their delight) and gobbling up red-and-gold envelopes with coins in, in payment for prosperity for the year to come.

The Red Crossers at my table took photos, clapped and cheered, and for about five minutes forgot the litany of emergencies and situations swimming around our heads. As the red dragon approached our table, we snapped away on iPhones and cameras, laughed out loud and waved madly (alright, that last one was just me). The banging and crashing of cymbals and drums reached a crescendo as the dragons produced a Chinese sign which (presumably) said they had been bribed enough, and would leave us alone for another year of prosperity.

As we paid our bill and slipped away into the night, those few minutes of light and sound and levity stayed with us. It was a tough day, with more curve balls thrown at us than we cared to count. By bedtime the Red Cross emergency response across the country was even bigger than before, but we will handle it. It’s what we do.

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