‘I’ve never seen anything like it. The whole town ‘
Lindsay Murdoch, Buxton
February 15, 2009
JENNY Pullen could not believe what she was seeing. “Marysville is far, far worse than I imagined … 100 times worse,” she says. “It really was hell.”
When Ms Pullen sat on a bus with other survivors from the mountain resort town north-east of Melbourne yesterday and looked at the ashes of her award-winning Allawah tourist cottages, she wanted to get out and take something — anything. “The statues in the garden are still there. The signs to the cottages are still there. That’s all,” she says.
But Marysville remains a police crime scene, with an unknown number of bodies still to be recovered, and none of the survivors could get off three buses that had a police escort to the town.
The survivors wept and hugged each other when they returned for the first time since the town became the centre of the worst of Black Saturday’s firestorms eight days ago.
They mostly sat in shocked silence on the buses, peering through windows and thick smoke at utter devastation. Simon Hudson, 42, wept as he told how a garden fountain he bought at the time of his wedding is the only recognisable thing that remains of his guesthouse.
“The town is wiped out. All the infrastructure is gone,” he says.
“It’s unbelievable. Of about 200 houses and other buildings, only 10 or 12 remain standing.
“I feel sick in the stomach and can’t eat or drink.”
Ashraf Doos, owner of Marysville’s Patisserie bakery, says no words can describe what has happened to one of Victoria’s most beautiful towns, which was nestled in a valley surrounded by waterfalls, creeks and tall mountain ash.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, not even in the movies,” Mr Doos says through tears.
“The whole town … there’s just miles and miles of black. It’s all gone. No more Marysville.”
Mr Doos says it will take a long time to clean up the piles of debris.
“What I saw in the papers and on television is only 10 per cent of the devastation,” he says. “I wish I could show pictures of it to the world.”
Mr Doos said it felt awful to go back to see the ruins of his two-storey business.
“This time last Saturday I was having lunch with my friends. Now they are gone. It’s a sad day to see that your life is gone.”
Mr Doos, who sat next to his sobbing wife, Christine, and two teenage sons on one of the buses, says he does not know what he will do next.
“I can’t think. I need help. My car is my office and our home. I don’t know where we will sleep tonight. I guess we’ll get there, but I just don’t know how at the moment.”
Yvonne Jones, 70, saw from her bus the ruins of a house where she believes the remains of a woman and her two teenage children still lie among the ashes.
“The husband is in contact with us,” Mrs Jones says.
“It’s very hard …”
Mrs Jones and her husband, Ivor, a retired Baptist pastor, lost their home and all their possessions.
“It’s terribly, terribly sad,” says Mr Jones, 74, who will preside over a memorial church service in nearby Buxton this morning. “But I believe as Christians that we can have hope.”
He says he prefers to think the victims are not dead but “promoted to glory”.
Many of the residents who went to Marysville yesterday were too upset to speak about what they saw.
Patricia Beggs, who is in a wheelchair, says residents needed to go back even though it was distressing.
“It makes you accept what has happened,” says Mrs Beggs, who watched her house burn before fleeing the inferno with her husband, John.
“It’s like burying the dead,” she says.
“There it is, it’s gone, it’s not there
any more. Now it can live in our memories.”
A 150-strong team of forensic police will take at least another week to
finish the gruesome search among the ruins.
Nobody knows the death toll, but it is believed to be more than 100 — one in five of the number of permanent residents.
“There’s still a lot of people missing,” Mr Doos says.
“I can’t find many of my friends.”