29 March, 2017
ADRA Australia’s emergency response has been activated after Cyclone Debbie devastated North Queensland on Tuesday, with wind gusts exceeding 260km/h.
ADRA is seeking to conduct inspections of the affected areas to determine the needs, playing an important coordination role with local churches in the area.
The priority is reaching areas where communications are not yet established, according to Kevin Munro, ADRA’s National Manager for Emergency Management.
“In the mean time we are encouraging local churches to arrange teams of willing members prepared to travel to the places of most need to assist when access is available,” Mr Munro said.
There are significant hurdles slowing the process. The Bruce Highway is closed in both directions due to flash flooding near Bowen. The lights are still out in many areas including Bowen, Proserpine and Mackay, as more than 60,000 properties spent Tuesday night without power.
Phone reception is also impacted, keeping many people cut off from communicating. Flood warnings are in place in many areas after torrential rainfall, while schools remain closed.
“Although the cyclone has passed, the real risk now is major flooding that will affect areas as far away as northern NSW,” Mr Munro said.
Charlene Luzuk, Northern Australia conference ADRA director, is trying to reach Bowen to assess the damage. Ms Luzuk, who was interviewed by Channel Seven in Ayr on Tuesday, reached a roadblock on Wednesday morning and said only emergency vehicles were being allowed through.
“The river is flooded because it’s high tide and the water can’t get out to sea,” Ms Luzuk said.
Graham Robbins, an ADRA volunteer, Ayr SDA church member and former firefighter, is travelling with Ms Luzuk.
“The flooding will be a major concern over the next two to three days. We were just looking at a big tree floating down this creek,” Mr Robbins said.
SDA churches around Mackay are organising teams of volunteers to support their fellow church members further north once the needs are known and road access is open. Bowen SDA church sustained minor damage in the cyclone.
One resident, Brian Forrester, described the cyclone as “very stressful” from his home in Cannonvale near Airlie Beach which copped the brunt of the category 4 storm.
“The worst part was the unknown. There were 7 of us sheltering together, and were fortunate to be in a cyclone-rated home and had done adequate preparations. But the house was literally humming and vibrating from the wind, which is crazy considering it’s built on a concrete slab!” Mr Forrester said.
Evacuation centres remain available in Ayr and Townsville but have not been used so far.