Diary of a client manager visiting bushfire-impacted communities
One of our employees, Belinda Osborne, felt compelled to share her experiences after a harrowing few days on the ground supporting customers in bushfire-impacted northern New South Wales.
At Suncorp, Belinda works directly with customers who have lost everything in a severe weather event. She is their single point of contact – an empathetic face amidst the chaos – making sure their insurance claim process runs smoothly; from checking in with the builders to arranging temporary accommodation. During her nine years with Suncorp, she has seen everything from the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie to the hail storm in Sydney last December. Here, she writes about her recent experience visiting her customers in northern New South Wales for the first time, who lost everything to bushfire.
Wednesday, 20 November 2019
Today started with a slightly nerve-wracking drive to Caparra. The road was gravel and really narrow with burnt trees on either side of the road. Tree trunks were snapped off and still smoking.
When we came to our first customer I admit I was not prepared for how sad it was. His home was reduced to rubble. The fire came down the hill, jumped a 160,000L water tank and picked up more speed at the bottom, which is when it destroyed his home and ten others in the area. It completely missed his neighbour's home.
Thankfully the family living there are all safe. It is in such a beautiful area of our country with a creek (although no longer running) right at his front door and surrounded by mountain ranges.
The second customer we met today – I can’t even begin to describe how tough she is. As soon as I looked at her she almost burst into tears but she kept it together. She’s a pensioner and lives on 23 hectares. She tried to fight the fire but the wind changed direction and she is really lucky to be alive. Her hair was singed and had to be cut off.
This woman lost her husband a little while ago and a lot of his items were destroyed in the fire. She also lost a lot of her animals. It broke my heart when she was talking about it. You can clearly see how much she loves her animals. We tried to catch two of her guinea fowl so she can move them to a new house but they were too stressed out.
Her hair was singed and had to be cut off.Belinda Osborne
There were fallen powerlines at this property and one of the powerpoles was charred so thin it was creaking in the wind. Towards the end of our visit, a tree lopping service arrived and advised us this massive tree was about to fall down.
I can’t really explain how devastating it is to walk around with a customer while their home is two metres away and reduced to nothing. The strength these people have is just incredible.
Today has been a day of mixed emotions.
Photo taken by Belinda Osborne during her time visiting customers in NSW.
Thursday, 21 November 2019
Today we went to a little place called Marlee first. The road in was a windy narrow gravel road and our cars were literally scraping branches from trees on the side of the road. There were trees with SES tape around them and other trees that had fallen and were resting on trees on the other side of the road. I admit I was really nervous.
We met with our customer who is thankfully safe along with his family. It's odd that admist the destruction there were some really beautiful things that survived – a sole flower, a memorial to a lost pet. There was a lot of smoke around and it was truly an eerie feeling.
The second visit was to Rainbow Flat. The customer has been on holidays and is yet to see the home in person. I will never understand fires or how one home can be completely destroyed but the next one is untouched.
We then headed to Bobin and my goodness it’s sad. The school is destroyed; so many homes are lost, but the community spirit is well and truly alive.
We met with a customer who had only just seen her home destroyed for the first time. It’s a very special thing to stand there with a complete stranger while they talk about their memories of a home they lived in for 20 years.
We ended up leaving Bobin pretty quickly as there was still a fire that was burning behind the mountain ranges.
I miss home a lot but am so grateful for this experience.
Our thoughts continue to be with the communities that have been left devastated by bushfire.