Clothes, cash and counselling for the survivors

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The Independent Online

Childers is only a small town but its inhabitants spared no effort yesterday in comforting the 69 survivors of the inferno at the youth hostel.

Childers is only a small town but its inhabitants spared no effort yesterday in comforting the 69 survivors of the inferno at the youth hostel.

Long trestle tables were arranged in the community hall and piles of shoes and neatly folded clothes were laid on top of them. Many of the backpackers were left with nothing but the clothes they stood up in and the townspeople donated their own belongings generously.

The supermarket sent A$1,500 (£600) of clothes and the Commonwealth Bank offered money. Across the road from the hostel, the pub opened its doors while the fire was raging and offered drinks on the house.

A group of volunteers from the surrounding area attended to the young men and women, giving them drinks and food and talking quietly to them. Some stared into space, others at the floor. A few were in clusters, talking animatedly about their nightmare. Most were silent.

One by one the backpackers were led to another room for counselling. Small groups were taken off for showers.

The town's authorities commandeered two of the three motels in Childers for the survivors. The town's hotel had offered them rooms without charge but counsellors feared that making them climb stairs so soon after the tragedy would be too traumatic. For those who had lost their travel documents, the immigration officers were on hand. A visiting psychologist told survivors it was "absolutely essential that you talk about this, that you discuss it with someone".

At a briefing session, the hospital superintendent, Dr Tim Lloyd-Morgan, told the assembled backpackers that the task of identifying the victims would be difficult. "We are unable to put names on those who have died and it will be a long time before we can do that," he told them gently.

Bill Trevor, the Mayor of Isis, who employed many of them at his courgette farm near the town, said coping with the disaster would be harder for the survivors as the day went on and the enormity of what had happened began to sink in.

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