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Doing ministry in the big wet

Charleville flood heights were not enough to break the levy banks.  Photo by Rev John Case

With flooding across two-thirds of the state Premier Anna Bligh indicated the damage bill will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Central Queensland town of Emerald was one of the worst hit with over 1000 homes flooded, scores of businesses damaged and 2,500 people evacuated to safety.

The Nogoa River, which divides the township, broke its banks and floodwaters spread across the town in what locals described as one of the worst floods the region had ever experienced.

Emerald Mayor Kerry Hayes said the flood was the highest ever recorded in the district.  “People here wouldn’t have seen any water like this since the great 1950 flood and this one obviously exceeds it on the heights,” he said. “We have got around 2,500 people who have registered at the town hall and agricultural college where evacuation centres have been set up,” he said.

As people were fleeing their homes, local Uniting Church minister Rev Russell Reynoldson was providing pastoral care and support for people as they arrived at the evacuation centre.

During the recovery phase the Department for Community Services set up a support centre at the Uniting Church right in the centre of town.

“In the recovery program my role was to monitor people’s social needs, passing them on, hearing about needs and trying to meet those needs,” Mr Reynoldson said.

He said they had also opened up a storeroom at the showgrounds so if people needed a fridge, chairs or tables they could pick them up even if they needed them for only a short period until their insurance came through.  “I feel a bit like Santa Claus at the moment, I’m handing out fridges and washing machines left, right and centre.

Mr Reynoldson spoke about the exhaustion people were feeling and the need for carers and support teams to take time out for a beer or cup of coffee.

“People have been hitting the wall. People have been working their butts off over the past weeks and need to monitor their level of energy, take some time out, get some rest and have a breather.”

It is questionable whether Mr Reynoldson was taking his own advice but he has been inspired by the spirit in the life of the community.

“The most common thing you hear from people’s stories in the recovery centre is that there is always someone worse off.  People have become aware of how important it is to be a community.

“With Emerald being such a diverse place, with people coming and going, contract workers coming in and flying out, people are now aware there is a heart in this community.

“I think we’ve found that heart over the last week or so and it’s shown itself in the way people help each other.

“The reality is, in any disaster the community comes alive and it has been no different in this community. We just need to keep it going and not fall back into our old ways.

Mr Reynoldson told the story of farmer Karen Bray who, as the flood waters approached, had been warned by a neighbour to move things to a higher ground.

“We mobilised a team from the church quick smart and packed up her whole house within a day and moved everything to higher ground.

“Peter her husband had said not to worry about it but Karen was convinced that’s what she had to do, and sure enough water went though her place to 150mm in depth.

“She had discovered she didn’t have insurance to cover flood damage and called Brisbane to be told that she could get insurance but there would be a 48 hour waiting period.”

The flood waters came through just over two days later.

Mr Reynoldson said the Brays will need to stay in their temporary accommodation for two or three months while the floorboards dry out and the house is restored.

“She’s one of the lucky ones. The recovery will not be months for some people, it will be years. Some people have taken a major loss and we don’t know the implications for the farming community.

“Farmers have lost thousands of head of stock, their fences are down, and there will be some major emotional scars that will take years to heal.”

Serious flooding also occurred in the Western Queensland town of Charleville where Patrol Padre Rev John Case is based.

A military Hercules touched down in the flood-ravaged town of Charleville on the evening of Friday, 18 January to deliver temporary water barriers to hold back the Warrego River.

A member of the local State Emergency Services team, Mr Case helped erect the temporary levies which held back the Warrego River and said they will now be left in place until the end of the wet season.

He said residents were understandably nervous after major flooding in 1990 when the whole town was evacuated, and again in 1997.

“People are still pretty wary about things. The gully came up again fairly quickly in a storm a few days ago and a few people were anxious about that, so there is still anxiety within the community.”

Photo : Charleville flood heights were not enough to break the levy banks. Photo by Rev John Case