Australian Woman Forced To Shake PM's Hand Upset By Wildfire Response: 'It Broke My Heart'

Friday, January 3rd 2020, 10:16 am
By: CBS News

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison paid a visit to the fire-ravaged village of Cobargo on Thursday, where he was met with angry and desperate residents. Morrison's government has been criticized for its response to the wildfires, and to climate change as a whole. In Cobargo he was berated by locals.

One local woman, Zoey Salucci-McDermott, refused to shake Morrison's hand when he approached her. A now-viral video of the moment shows Morrison grab her hand anyway, shake it and turn his back. Salucci-McDermott tried to tearfully tell the prime minister about the major losses the town was experiencing during the fires.

After the incident with Morrison, Salucci-McDermott spoke to Australia's 10 News First, a partner of CBS News. The young mother, who is 28 weeks pregnant, said she would have spoken with the prime minister had he asked how she was doing. 

The Cobargo resident told Network 10 she did not believe the prime minister's visit was genuine. "He wasn't here to help us, was he?" She said she refused to shake his hand "until he gave more funding to the RFS (Rural Fire Service)". 

"It broke my heart, I would have happily sat down and had a cuppa with him if he'd just asked if I was okay," she said.  "I told him it was a war zone, and he walked away, and it broke my heart.

"I couldn't do anything but stand there," Salucci-McDermott said, adding that she was "in shock" when Morris grabbed her hand. The young mother said she lost everything in the fire – except her car and what she was able to pack into it.

Two people died and many lost their homes after the brushfire ravaged Cobargo. Resources are thin and firefighters are still working every day, despite experiencing their own loss, Salucci-McDermott told Network 10. 

Salucci-McDermott is not the only Cobargo resident disappointed in the prime minister. Many directly criticized Morrison for the lack of resources to deal with the fires.

"Every single time this area has a flood or a fire, we get nothing. If we were Sydney, if we were north coast, we would be flooded with donations with urgent emergency relief," a resident in Cobargo told The Associated Press.

These devastating wildfires have prompted a state of emergency in New South Wales – the third declaration since the start of Australia's fire season began. The flames have forced thousands to flee in south eastern Australia and killed at least 19 people, including three firefighters. 

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