HMAS Choules, with almost 1000 people and 115 pets on board, docked at Hastings at 4.30pm, with the first bus load of people arriving at the Somerville relief centre about 5.30pm.
Friends and family embraced, as reality kicked in that the five-day ordeal had ended for most of them. About 800 people arrived at the centre, while 200 evacuees went straight to Melbourne.
The mood was buoyant but calm, and one woman carried a sign “inaction costs more”.
Nineteen-year-old Jackie Stefanopoulous, who was on board HMAS Choules, had been holidaying in Mallacoota with her boyfriend and his family, when “all of a sudden we heard about the incoming bushfires”.
“I was petrified, a lot of people were petrified,” Ms Stefanopoulous said.
“The sense of uncertainty [was frightening], like not knowing whether we will be OK, understanding that there were bushfires surrounding us only a couple of metres. I feared for my life, it was really scary.”
The Mt Waverley woman said she was running out of food and clean water, and that she had only slept for about 10 hours in total over four days.
She praised HMAS Choules crew, who she said had been “awesome”.
Sourced via The Age.