Along with the piles of furniture and junk lining Brisbane streets severely affected by the floods are thousands of volunteers. In the suburbs of Milton, Auchenflower, Graceville and Rosalie households and business owners are being inundated with help from those whose houses fared better.

According to Volunteering Queensland, more than 62,000 people have registered to help in the flood clean-up effort so far, with more being encouraged to join.

Rodney Simmons’ Brookfield home was cut-off for five days, but untouched by floodwaters last week so he decided his hands would be more useful elsewhere. “By the time we got out it was just a bit, we felt bad not doing anything and wanted to do anything we could,” he told Crikey today.

From Friday to Sunday Simmons helped clean up in the suburbs of St Lucia, Fairfiled and Seventeen Mile Rocks, helping small businesses and households scrub the mud and clear debris away.

“Fairfield was hammered. It was kind of different going to people houses, for blocks and blocks the water was past the doorway, they had totally been obliterated,” he said. “It looks like most of them will be pulled right out. They are being stripped right back to external beams and wall, but that’s it.”

While the task isn’t easy for volunteers or residents, Simmons said the number of people willing to help is a inspiring: “There are people in every house and roaming the streets. All kind of types of people, young old, women and men.”

A sous chef at Jade Buddha restaurant, Kintasha Amber, has been overwhelmed by stories of community support. While her workmates were cleaning mud out of their Brisbane River-fronted restaurant, a man offered free sausage rolls to all.

“As well as that, a workmate’s suburb was flooded and there was over 100 extra people helping out and they cleaned up the whole street cleaned up in a day,” she said. “My boss said he had friends in the States that lost their house in Katrina and it was horrible, there was r-pe and looting and people weren’t helping out at all. But in general across Brisbane, [people’s help] has been amazing.”

The CEO of Volunteer Queensland Jelenko Dragisic says while the number of volunteers is encouraging, signing up with an organisation, rather than roaming solo, is a much more effective way of helping.

“You don’t want people to just turn up, because that hampers the efforts of ambulances, SES army and other organisations,” he told Crikey. “What the public needs to know is we don’t want you to just turn up we need coordination. Somebody needs to do it — local council or other organisations.”

As the clean-up continues in Brisbane and across Queensland, Premier Anna Bligh estimates 28,000 homes will have to be rebuilt, with many uninhabitable for weeks. But Simmons says he can see the impact he’s having in the clean-up effort.

“By the end of the day you’ve noticed there is difference. And even though there is so much to do, you can see you’ve made a dent in it,” he said.

Peter Fray

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