Church News and Events

Local Response to Natural Disasters in Australia

  • 4 February 2011

In the last month, Australia has been hard hit by natural disasters, beginning with December’s flooding that continued into January, and climaxing with Cyclone Yasi making landfall in northern Queensland on Feb. 2, 2011.

Cyclone Yasi

As southeast Queenland continued clean up from devastating floods, residents in northern Queensland received the news that category 5 tropical cyclone Yasi was headed toward their coast. On Wednesday, February 2, 2011, the cyclone made landfall in Cairns, dumping rain and bringing winds topping 170 mph.

Queensland State Premier Anna Bligh warned residents in advance that the “impact [was] likely to be more life threatening than any experienced during recent generations.” Queensland had prepared emergency services and personnel in advance for the approaching disaster.

As one of the biggest cyclones to form in the South Pacific in recorded history moved inland through coastal communities and a few major cities, it was downgraded to a tropical depression. Areas along the coast were hardest hit; in the town of Tully, no trees were left standing in the cyclone’s wake. There and elsewhere, thousands of residents remain without power.

While the economic costs will be steep, Australians are counting their blessings that the cyclone wasn’t any worse—with only one confirmed fatality as of Friday morning.

There have been no reported injuries among members, all missionaries are safe and accounted for, and preliminary reports indicate no significant damage to Church buildings or property. Plans to organize cleanup efforts are in the works.

Flooding

Only three weeks earlier, on January 10, 2011, the slow flooding that had been plaguing Australia since the last week of December took a turn for the worse when a cloudburst sent a raging torrent down the Lockyer Valley west of Brisbane. Houses disappeared under the flash flooding, and cars were swept downstream as the wall of water rushed forward.

Local news reports placed the number of dead from flooding at more than two dozen, with scores more missing. More than 26,000 homes have been fully or partially inundated by flood waters, displacing nearly a quarter of a million people. Brisbane, in southeast Queensland, was hardest hit.

As the waters began to recede in some areas toward the end of January, locals began to clean mud, clear debris, and assist in relief efforts.

Response

In southern Queensland, less than a week after the cloudburst sent contaminated water churning into cities and towns, local Church members were assisting with clean-up, raising funds, assembling cleaning kits, and distributing other relief supplies. Local church leaders began coordinating relief efforts with government officials, but did not expect to begin most recovery work until the flood waters receded.

In February, 350 of the Church’s Helping Hands volunteers converged on Jindalee Recreation Reserve in Brisbane to renovate and restore the clubhouse’s grounds, which serve the community at large.

Jamboree Ward Counselor Matthew Bourke emphasized the importance of getting the community back to normal as soon as possible following the disaster.

“After floods peaked over the roof of the clubhouse, I was concerned about how long it would be before the club could reopen its doors,” said Jason Eldering, president of the Jindalee District Australian Football Club, in an interview with Church News contributor Christopher Cooper. “I estimated that with the extensive damage to the clubhouse and grounds, we would not expect to be fully operational for up to 12 months. But after the mammoth effort put in by the volunteers, including all the skilled tradesmen, it could be as little as two weeks away from reopening.”

That outpouring of service and humanity can be seen throughout the areas hit hard by the recent flooding and cyclone in Australia.

In northern Queensland, where residents were not affected by the floods but had to endure Cyclone Yasi, Church leaders are assessing the damages.

Steven Stebbings, area welfare manager in New Zealand, said as the effects of the cyclone abate, Church leaders will evaluate the needs of the affected areas and decide on a course of action.

“The focus right now will be on getting membership to assist with the cleanup efforts,” he said.

Long-term plans to recover from both

A January 17, 2011 letter from the Pacific Area Presidency calls members to assist in the flood recovery efforts in Queensland.

“The Church is doing all it can to help those in need amongst its own membership,” the letter reads. “Priesthood leaders are also contacting local government bodies to determine ways in which Mormon Helping Hands and other service projects may be initiated to assist those not of our faith in rebuilding their communities.”

President Fritjof Fluge Langeland of the Brisbane Australia Mission said that missionaries will also be involved in the clean-up efforts, once damages have been assessed.

The extent of the devastation throughout Australia reaches into the billions of dollars. The recovery process will be long, and the area presidency has requested understanding and patience during the coming months as members are drawn into rebuilding programs.