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NSW floods: Social media rallies thousands of volunteers for flood clean-up

Samantha Turnbull, Wednesday April 12, 2017 - 10:44 EST
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Maddy Braddon founded the Lismore Helping Hands & After Flood Clean Up group on Facebook. - ABC

As flood warnings and evacuation orders began to spread across Facebook, an inspired few responded with more than a like, share or emoji.

Savvy social media users, including Maddy Braddon, saw the power of the online platform to rally the troops as floodwaters were rising, knowing a mass recovery operation would be required.

Ms Braddon started the group on Facebook which began with just a few of her friends as members — at the time of publishing, membership had grown to 7,722.

"I've lived in Lismore for the past 12 years and I love this community and everything in it, so I just really wanted to help," Ms Braddon said.

"People are still in shock from the flood and they need all types of help.

"We don't know when we're going to stop — when the work is done, I guess, and when the community is back on its feet."

The Facebook group spawned dozens of 'real life' get-togethers including the establishment of a hub at the defunct Lismore Railway Station where flood victims can seek help, and would-be volunteers can register to join clean-up crews.

"It's grown to be so big, it's unbelievable," Ms Braddon said.

"We've had tradies offering their experiences and help, people travelling up from Sydney to help, truckloads of donations coming in.

"People are now posting things like: 'I need help, can you help me clean my house or lift this heavy thing' and people are just doing that."

'It just went berserk'

Lismore mother Stephanie Van Vugt joined Ms Braddon's Facebook group after visiting an evacuation centre for flood-affected residents where she was told it was 'too early' to help.

Ms Van Vugt posted the suggestion of a community barbeque, and was overwhelmed when thousands of sausages and bread loaves were donated.

The barbeque evolved into a round-the-clock drop-off point for food donations that were delivered to flood victims across the Northern Rivers.

"It just went berserk," she said.

"People have been dropping off food, clothes ... it's beyond what you could imagine."

Ms Van Vugt, who has a four-month-old son, also said the Facebook group had helped her to bond with the community.

"My insanely supportive husband has been doing the night feeds so I can volunteer during the day," she said.

"I'm not from this area originally and I didn't know a single person before I met them here.

"If it wasn't for Facebook, I don't know how I would've connected with everyone or how we would've been able to respond to their calls for help."

Help for Moti

Lismore resident Moti Daaom was one recipient of the help, thanks to social media.

When word spread that his home had been inundated and he lived alone, numerous posts were made on Facebook urging people to come to his aid.

"Any carpenters or handymen out there?" Christine Parr posted.

"Project Moti's House: The steps up to his door are old and waterlogged."

Mr Daaom lost most of his belongings, but many have been replaced by people who saw the call-out on social media.

"Everything was a wreck, I didn't know what I was going to do," Mr Daaom said.

"But I had so much help, cleaning, donations, it was amazing."

'I had to do something about it'

Numerous other flood recovery Facebook groups and pages have also been created by residents in the Tweed and Byron shires.

Karina Bale noticed on the page that many donation centres were overflowing, so she approached a real estate agent for vacant space and was offered a two-storey building in Wollumbin Street, Murwillumbah.

She has volunteered to manage the centre for an entire month.

"I just saw the enormity of the grief and devastation and despair in the town and I had to do something about it," Ms Bale said.

"I just want people to not feel shy to ask for help.

"They're in the mentality that there are others worse off than them, but they all need help, they just need to ask."


© ABC 2017

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