To be wildfire evacuees in Fort McMurray, Alberta and British Columbia is to be part of a devastating, mass trauma event. The Canadian wildfire evacuees are running for their lives. They face an uncertain future. They do not know when they can go home. They do not know what they will find. They fled with very little, leaving things, and in many cases, pets behind.
Connected through Mass Trauma Events
I am watching the events unfold from the other side of the world. The stories and images stir up my own mass trauma event memories. Some forgotten. Some suppressed. But each one connects me, in a slim thread, to the evacuees. Oh, I know there are many differences in the disasters – wildfire versus earthquake. However, there are very many similarities:
♦ The incredible resilience of the survivors.
♦ The determination, even this early on, to return and rebuild.
♦ The generosity of communities who have opened their doors, and their hearts to the evacuees.
♦ The corporations, like WestJet, stepping up, to help people and their pets get to safety.
♦ The aid agencies, insurance companies and government organising assistance and being there to welcome people to temporary shelters.
♦ The incredible people from the emergency services and the military working tirelessly to protect people and their homes.
Wildfire Evacuees Lives are Changed Forever
For the evacuees and survivors of natural disasters, a long road lies ahead to rebuild their shattered lives. All the hopes and dreams they had before the event will have to be put on hold. Small business owners will struggle to get back on their feet. They have a long battle ahead with insurers, who are promising the world right now, but will quickly look at how they can minimise claim payouts. I know – I’ve been there, done that, got the scars to prove it.
And this brings me the main message of this reflection: My natural disaster was a series of earthquakes, with the significant ones lasting from September 2010 through to December 2011. Yours is a wildfire, that is still burning out of control. Both different, but the trauma, the impact and the journey to recovery will have very many similarities. This message is to give you a glimmer of hope as you face the unimaginably tough days ahead.
Be Gentle with Yourself
Please look out for each other – but mostly for yourself. You need to rebuild your strength so you can help others. Accept all the aid and support you get offered. You may not be able to talk about your experiences for days, weeks, months or years. It’s normal to shut down. I know I did.
Once you have reached safety, shock and exhaustion sets in. You need to allow yourself the space to process it all. Be gentle with yourself, and take all the time you need to get strong enough to continue on.
I am here for you when you need to share with someone who is five years ahead of you on the road to disaster recovery.
Kia Kaha! (Be strong)
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