Australia

Amid the ruins of the NSW bushfires, this pharmacist is keeping his doors open

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Sitting in the darkness of his shop, Raj Gupta told SBS News how "New Year's Eve was nothing short of tragic".

Raj Gupta's home went up in flames during this week's NSW South Coast bushfires and his town of Malua Bay remains severely damaged, without power and mobile service.

But Mr Gupta has no plans to close the small pharmacy he runs there.

"It's my job," he told SBS News on Friday.

Raj Gupta has no plans to close his pharmacy.
Raj Gupta has no plans to close his pharmacy.
SBS News

The 52-year-old pharmacist is now staying in emergency housing at nearby Batemans Bay, but is continuing to travel back to Malua Bay to keep the pharmacy open.

"I've had my patients come in and say they've not only lost their house and their belongings, but also their medication," he said.

"There's been no power, there's been no communication [so] we can't take payments, but that's not much of a concern ... People will come back and pay. They are very honourable people."

We can't take payments, but that's not much of a concern

Raj Gupta

"The concern at this time is to make sure people can be helped, that we can fulfil their requests."

Mr Gupta was born in India and came to Australia 28 years ago. The father of two moved to Malua Bay seven years ago for semi-retirement.

He said initially, it was a "tough" move and "at times we wondered about the business case ... we don't have a GP [here]."  

"But now, I know the word love is used quite loosely, but you feel the love here as a pharmacist, as a healthcare professional. Working in this community is very rewarding."

Raj Gupta serves a customer on Friday.
Raj Gupta serves a customer on Friday.
SBS News

The death toll of Tuesday's South Coast fires now stands at eight, with around 450 homes destroyed.

Mr Gupta said residents of Malua Bay had been relaying stories of escape to each other.

"A family had to walk away [from their home] only with the clothes on their backs, they couldn't take anything else with them," he said.

"What happened on New Year's Eve was nothing short of tragic. At relatively short notice, this little community was hit by fire bombs and embers flying around ... Houses went up in flames."

The region is set to face dangerous conditions on Saturday, with the Rural Fire Service telling holidaymakers to get out.

But if the roads remain open, Mr Gupta said "we will be open tomorrow".

"We will pull through as a community, I'm sure. We will recover from this and be stronger."

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