Knebworth man helps give hope back to Australian community hit by bushfires

PUBLISHED: 13:48 06 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:48 06 March 2020

Ben had 48 hours warning for his disaster response trip to Australia. Picture: Ben Catchpole

Ben had 48 hours warning for his disaster response trip to Australia. Picture: Ben Catchpole

Archant

A Knebworth man has returned from a three week recovery mission in Australia, in which he helped sift through ash to help find lost possessions after the recent bushfires.

Ben had 48 hours warning for his disaster response trip to Australia. Picture: Ben CatchpoleBen had 48 hours warning for his disaster response trip to Australia. Picture: Ben Catchpole

Ben Catchpole was given 48 hours notice on February 2 before flying out to Australia to help with recovery efforts following the deadly fires at the start of the year.

He said: "My wife couldn't wait to get rid of me! She was excited but also wary of what I was going into as well, she was very very supportive."

Ben's journey as a volunteer with NGO Team Rubicon was split into two parts, first in the Adelaide Hills and the second in New South Wales for which he was mission commander of a team.

His role was to support the recovery efforts following the bush fires which caused massive amounts of destruction across the country.

Ben had 48 hours warning for his disaster response trip to Australia. Picture: Ben CatchpoleBen had 48 hours warning for his disaster response trip to Australia. Picture: Ben Catchpole

Ben said: "We were sifting through lots of rubble and ash just to find whatever we could, debris removal, tree clearance, fence removal on farms and also welfare cases."

The team managed to find items suchs as a war medal, jewellery and wedding rings.

Ben said their presence gave "a bit of hope to the residents as well, just us being on the ground".

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As the fires swept through the area only a few months ago, Ben described the situation as still being "very raw".

He added: "People are still in shock - returning to homes that have burned to the ground was a big step for some of them.

"We tried to get across to them that there is some hope and that they are not alone."

There were a number of hazards which Ben and his team faced, the most notable of which was signs of burned asbestos.

Ben had 48 hours warning for his disaster response trip to Australia. Picture: Ben CatchpoleBen had 48 hours warning for his disaster response trip to Australia. Picture: Ben Catchpole

The fires, which were widely reported on in December and January, destroyed more than 2,000 homes in New South Wales.

Ben said: "From a personal perspective it was humbling to help a community that was in desperate need, that needed a boost.

"I have to be realistic about how much I can do. I would like to go back and do more but I have got to get back to my job.

Ben added he was "so fortunate to take a more leading role" and that "it has taken a while to reacclimatise to normal life."

Team Rubicon is a charity which sends trained volunteers to disaster struck areas to help provide support and aid.

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