Filipinos around the world have been concerned about reports of Filipinos that have been evacuated and lost their homes. The Philippine Times has been in regular contact with Jerson Baladjay of Samahang Pilipino sa Gippsland (SPAG), and Rowena Mills, a Filipino community leader in Bairnsdale within the bushfire region of East Gippsland in Victoria to determine how Filipinos have been affected in the region.
Four Filipino-owned properties severely damaged, two others yet to be confirmed
Four Filipinos are now said to have sustained severe damage to their properties, mostly in farm areas in various towns in the East Gippsland region. We cannot provide further details, as understandably, these people are quite devastated. Rumours of other Filipinos that are suspected of having lost their homes are not yet confirmed.
The Philippine Times has interviewed Filipina named Analyn Gaupo Henderson from the town of Orbost who shared the ordeal of her and her partner.
Analyn and her husband have lost 80% of their farm property in Gelantipy, around 100 km north of Orbost. Analyn stated that this was “heartbreaking”, as nearly two years worth of income is said to have been lost from their cow breeding farm as a result of this damage.
Although their cows survived, they apparently are unsure of their health as they ran from the fire and were exposed to high levels of heat and smoke.
Analyn informed The Philippine Times that a ‘fire tornado’ came within 500 metres of their farm property. Analyn and her husband were not able to save their farm, as they needed to protect their home in the town of Orbost.
Another Filipina, Tessie Cochraine was on a holiday in the Philippines during the time her house was burnt down in the town of Sarsfield, around 18 km north east of Bairnsdale, Victoria. She is expected to return to Australia soon, but is said to not have a home to return to.
Melbourne-based April Morrisey has lost her former home (which became her holiday home), in the town of Ensay, 80km north of Bairnsdale. Neighbours have informed April that her property has been reduced to ashes along with all their neighbours in the area.
Violeta Beckhurst, a Filipina from Bairnsdale has been informed that her and her Australian husband’s farm property in Cann River, (70km east of Orbost, 70km west of Mallacoota) was completely destroyed. Neighbours who remained have contacted Violeta to inform her of the situation. She has been unable to verify this, as the roads remain closed and fires have continued in the area. This is the first time in 25 years since she arrived in Australia that fires have damaged her property.
All 300 Filipinos safe, but 21 remain in Mallacoota
Rowena Mills, Chairperson of PinOz of East Gippsland reported to The Philippine Times that Filipinos are so far reported to be safe.
Mills and other Filipinos in her group are in the process of assessing the needs of Filipinos in the region.
The Philippine Times has been in contact with a Filipino community leader, Sally Fenn in the town of Mallacoota. 21 Filipinos remain there, as they opted to stay and protect their homes rather than evacuate to Melbourne. Food relief has been sent to the town from Filipinos in Bairnsdale.
A grocery store and pharmacy have re-opened but have limited supplies. Power is also limited in the town, and those with generators are now running out of gas.
Over 4000 tourists in the town of Mallacoota have been evacuated by the Australian Navy and Air Force over the last week. Most of the senior citizens of the town have also been evacuated, leaving a small population remaining in the town.
Mallacoota is still not accessible by land, and according to Fenn, the roads only 1.5 km per day is being cleared.
The number of people evacuated is far less than that reported by Philippine media, which stated that 300 Filipinos that were evacuated in the East Gippsland region, according to Mills.
The total estimated number of Filipinos living in the region is 300, said Mills. These Filipinos are almost completely permanent residents of Australia, living predominantly in and around the towns of Bairnsdale, Lakes Entrance and Orbost.
While the fires came dangerously close – within 10km of the town of Bairnsdale where most of the Filipinos in the region live, residents were not required by state authorities to evacuate. They were however ready to evacuate if needed, as they were issued with an emergency alert.
Mills stated that there are an estimated 60 Filipinos in Lakes Entrance that would have evacuated to various locations on Friday 3 January. Some are said to have stayed with their friends in Bairnsdale, Morwell or in evacuation centres outside of Lakes Entrance while others opted to travel the 4 hour drive to Melbourne.
Filipinos from Lakes Entrance have been returning home after they were given clearance on Sunday 5 January. However several are expected to experience financial struggles as a result of business closures in the town.
New South Wales
It is also reported that several Filipinos living in the south coast of New South Wales, particularly in Bega and Eden have been impacted by the fires in that region. Many Filipinos work at the Bega cheese factory.
One Filipina named Edna from the far south coast was able to follow the warnings of emergency services and fled to Melbourne.
Help is needed for the Filipinos impacted by the bushfires in East Gippsland. Find out how you can help.
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