From Australian bushfire ashes...

...a community rises in solidarity
WORLD
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Characters team Jan 20. 2020
by Characters team

Photography by  twice awarded Pulitzer Prize Greek photographer, Alkis Konstantinidi for Reuters. 
Reporting by Martin Petty.
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For two weeks, builder Rod Dunn has been living at a showground in a borrowed caravan, wearing an old coat donated by a friend.
His house, car, sheds and work tools were wiped out by the ferocious New Year bushfires that swept through the Australian town of Cobargo, killing three of its residents and destroying dozens of homes, farms and vehicles.
Though he has lost everything, he counts himself lucky.
"We live in the best place in the world," he said, nodding his head with certainty. "This has united people like you'd never have imagined."
 

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Standing outside a shabby caravan with plastic chairs and dogs roaming around, Dunn recalls how a friend risked his life to rescue him from his blazing property, and how strangers from a town 70 km (43.5 miles) away gave him and his wife a tent to sleep in.
"That tent saved us," said Dunn, a 62-year-old with an unkempt white beard that reaches his chest. "I'm totally overwhelmed by what we've seen here, the generosity of mankind."

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While residents of many of the fire-threatened towns and villages heeded advice to leave and head to evacuation centres elsewhere, Cobargo's less than 1,000 people chose not to abandon their town.
A handful of fleeing locals set up their caravans and tents at Cobargo's showground, defying orders by police to move to designated locations outside the town in New South Wales state.

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Word quickly spread that a commune was forming. Caravans in tow, more evacuees arrived, among them farmers, some bringing horses.
A kitchen, laundry facilities and a food bank were set up, and medics, a counsellor and a chaplain joined to support the displaced. Meetings were nightly and trucks rolled up daily, bringing water, food, animal feeds and huge hay bales for farms.

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"There has been so much help and support. Everybody looks after each other. There are so many good people here," said Philippe Ravanel, a Swiss blacksmith, standing in the rubble of a 150-year-old home that he bought in 2006, of which only the fireplace remains.
 

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