Phillip Silvestro, the Freshwater man whose family gathered six tonnes of donations for victims of the Lismore flooding, then sorted and packed it all before driving it north to distribution centres, is currently in the region helping recovery efforts.
Readers will recall the Freshwater local appealed to his neighbours and the Northern Beaches’ community for any clothes, cleaning products and household items he could drive up to Lismore in a trailer to aid those whose homes had been inundated with floodwaters.
Phillip was astonished when he received an enormous outpouring of goodwill, and subsequently replaced the trailer with a six-tonne truck to transport the gifts.
Phillip and his wife Donna, daughter Rosita and her husband Patrick then spent over 60 hours dividing the items and repackaging them in labelled boxes, to save time for the overworked volunteers in Lismore facilitating the distribution of crisis aid.
“I suppose it’s hard for people in Sydney to fathom how hard it is for those who were flooded to rebuild everything,” Rosita told Manly Observer. “They can’t go to their local stores and buy equipment and tools to begin again. For a start, there’s nothing open.
“Hopefully, with what our community has donated, it will help towards the recovery.”
Now in Lismore, Phillip told Manly Observer, “We have been very busy up here giving a hand to lots of people. The donations were greatly appreciated.
“We were thinking of purchasing water, but lots of water has already been distributed. People in Sydney donated over $1000, so with this my cousin Carlo and I used the money to purchase fuel in jerry cans to fill up people’s generators and pressure-cleaners. This was a slow but satisfying process.
“We were able to chat with people whilst filling their equipment or jerry cans; it allowed us the opportunity to hear their stories – some of them were rescued from their roof!
“It was good for them to share their stories with us. We were able to listen to their hardships and learn about their recovery process.
“Ninety cartons of beer were donated [by Maestre Brewing Company for volunteers overseeing Lismore’s recovery] and it was good that we still had some left to give to them [the householders]. It’s only a very small token towards recovery. Even though they lost everything they still were able to have a smile on their face.”
Phillip is working in the Lismore region that was completely submerged by the Wilson’s River on 22 February. After 30+ hours of torrential rain, the river breached its banks and poured over the 2005-built Lismore CBD flood levee and inundated the town centre. 22 people are known to have died, some in landslides.
The fast-flowing waters destroyed the contents of the library, art gallery, and dozens of shops and homes, and forced many people onto their rooftops to await rescue. The State Emergency Services were overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster – the highest ever recorded in a low-lying city built on the confluence of two rivers and multiple creeks, and used to coping with flooding in wet seasons.
Most of the estimated 4000+ rescues were undertaken by a network of people with their own dinghies and jet-skis.
“I was aware of what Lismore would be like, but when I got here it was surreal,” Phillip revealed. “The devastation hits you in the face, there is no escaping it. People lives are in large piles on the kerbside of every street.
“We are helping people. For example we went to a shop, and removed walls, electrical wiring, ducting, gyprock and everything was soaked with water. We are not achieving much overall, but every little bit helps. It’s not like when you do a normal maintenance job and see the end result; but hopefully it will make it easier for them.”
“Lismore still has contractors that have to come in and remove the asbestos ceilings, which will cost over $45,000. They have to wait for that specialist recovery process to end before finishing repairs to their shops and homes, at some time in the future.
“So the help we give is only a very small part of their rebuilding. But hope springs eternal.”
Rosita summed up her father’s motivation.
“My dad is so hands-on with our community, and he wanted to help them in Lismore too. So he thought, ‘I’ll drive up, I’ll take some stuff with me, does anyone want to donate?’ And it’s just blown-up from there!
“It’s typical of him, he’s so helpful!”