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Salvos continue Cyclone Debbie relief as victims struggle to rebuild lives

1 May 2017

Two boats destroyed in a carpark after Cyclone Debbie

Tropical Cyclone Debbie has caused widespread destruction across Queensland and Northern NSW (Photo by Ryan Hook)

It’s been a month since Tropical Cyclone Debbie made landfall in Far North Queensland, bringing ferocious winds and floods that left a trail of destruction from Bowen down to Lismore in northern NSW.

Most of the immediate clean-up work has been done, and roads have been cleared, power restored and schools reopened.

The Salvation Army, which began its emergency recovery work on 29 March, is still receiving new requests for assistance. These are coming through recovery sites that remain open in Cannonvale (Airlie Beach), Bowen, and Lismore; referrals in Tweed Heads, Ballina and Byron Bay; and via the website and 13SALVOS.

“The reality of the devastation people have experienced is further setting in and people are finding themselves in more difficult circumstances after the long haul of clean-up and as time goes on,” said Kim Lee, The Salvation Army’s Strategic Disaster Manager.

“Also, for some people the adrenaline has worn off and they are now feeling more desperate and becoming more motivated to ask for our help. Our personnel on the ground are reporting that people more severely impacted by Cyclone Debbie are now presenting for help and that they are able to spend more time with them to hear their stories and provide further assistance and follow up.”

The Salvation Army is also exploring new outreach activities to communities that until now, it has not been able to reach.

“We are working at Mullumbimby and the top end of Byron Shire and doing some outreach into the villages around there,” said Lieutenant Wes Bust, Ballina Corps Officer. “Some people there won’t come in looking for assistance, so we need to get out and get them some help.”

The situation is similar in nearby Lismore.

“There is still so much need in this area,” said Captain Jennifer Reeves, Lismore Corps Officer. “We need to do more outreach as many people who have been badly affected are not coming in.”

As the recovery sites transition into recovery information centres the work will be on a smaller scale, but The Salvation Army, together with other agencies, has been invited to continue its involvement.

“The invitation is there, the need is there, we just need to ensure personnel-wise that we have enough resources to organise these teams,” said Kim.

For information on relief applications, go to or call 13 SALVOS (13 72 58).

Stories from the front line

Major Bryce Davies, The Salvation Army’s Communities of Hope Coordinator, has just spent a week in Airlie Beach, assisting at recovery sites in Cannonvale, Proserpine, and further north in Bowen. Major Davies has shared some of his experiences:

"The recovery sites enable people to apply for government grants and to also access the services of The Salvation Army, Lifeline, and the Red Cross.

The bulk of the work has been done, but a lot of people who’ve cleaned up and have finished the crisis phase are now just realising the extent of their loss.

They come in to talk to us for a 10-minute interview and many end up staying for much longer, telling us their stories and crying. It’s had a powerful effect on me.

One lady, who lives alone, has had her small business, which relies heavily on tourism, decimated. She couldn’t see how she could keep paying her bills. Her house was inundated during the cyclone and following deluge of rain. She came in hoping for a $50 Woolworths card. We were able to give her a lot more than she was asking for, as well as some additional assistance. She just broke down in tears, so thankful for our support. She was not used to receiving support from anyone.

I joined in the Airlie Beach parkrun last Saturday, and at the conclusion of the run made a brief announcement that The Salvation Army was offering assistance to those who needed it at the recovery centre.

Four people later came to the centre all trying to be brave and stoic, but were crying once they’d had a chance to talk and share their story. All they really wanted was a safe place to chat with someone they could trust. And the Army is so trusted here. These people were all surprised how emotional they were once they stopped long enough to talk about it.

Cyclone Debbie hit the coast on 28 March and, unlike other recent cyclones, took almost 36 hours to completely pass. This was 36 hours of screaming wind, driving rain and an intense electrical storm. When I’ve asked people where they were when the storm hit, 80 per cent of them have started to cry. The emotional toll this storm is taking is significant.

One man whose business depends on boat repair, was also struggling. Eighty boats were lost during the storm in Shute Harbour, and more in Airlie Beach. These boats can’t be repaired. This guy was trying other things to help pay the bills and we were able to assist him and his wife. They were very emotional and teary about the support we gave them. This just blows me away.

These stories and so many others, show me that we have a real role here to play in taking time to talk to people, listening to their stories and providing support.

Lifeline too has been amazing. I recommend to anyone who needs it to follow up with this option and get counselling.

The loss of work is a huge factor in people’s stress. Part-time or casual workers have lost significant wages since the cyclone went through, including those in hospitality and cleaning. Business has dried up; it’s all on hold. Other full-time workers have had to take annual leave. This all adds to the stress and trauma already there.

So many people don’t know how they will pay rent this week. Wages stop but people still need to eat and pay bills. Many people up here who lived on their yachts have lost everything. Everything they own is on the bottom of the ocean.

The support we give is so appreciated and our service is so trusted. So many people say that talking to us is as big a deal as the material support we can give them.

There is no better time to be a Salvo than in the middle of all this."

By Simone Worthing 

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