REMARKABLE rescues, tales of survival and an ongoing hope of rebuilding shattered homes and lives have risen out of the floodwaters that have engulfed Queensland in recent weeks.
Thirty people have been killed, 30,000 homes have been damaged and billions of dollars of crops have been destroyed in the floodwaters that have inundated about 75 per cent of the state since December.
Toowoomba Diocese – the epicentre of Queensland’s still unfolding flood crisis – is continuing to be the focus of ongoing recovery efforts.
Among the frontline troops are clergy associated with both the diocese and Brisbane archdiocese.
Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba said this was because areas in the Lockyer Valley hard hit on January 10 by the rampaging floodwaters such as Grantham, while belonging to Toowoomba diocese, were also on the border of Brisbane archdiocese. Gatton is also part of Brisbane archdiocese. Images of floodwaters smashing through Toowoomba’s CBD and later destroying the towns of Grantham and Murphy’s Creek were seen around the world.
Stories of remarkable rescues and in some cases tragic loss followed.
“Many of those affected will require ongoing companionship on the journey,” Bishop Morris said.
“It’s a journey that has a lot of questions but at this stage not a lot of answers.”
Bishop Morris is now working closely with Helidon parish priest Fr Mick McClure and liaising with Gatton parish priest Fr John Conway to support people in the vast area affected by the devastating floods.
Last week Bishop Morris was preparing to visit Helidon to join with Fr McClure in celebrating Mass last Saturday night and Sunday morning before heading to Withcott.
Withcott’s Holy Family Church was badly damaged and Helidon’s St Joseph’s Church was also inundated.
All men to varying degrees were limited in their capacity to respond to their parishioners in their hour of need throughout January 10 and into the early hours of the next day – roads throughout the region were damaged or totally blocked and communications including mobile phone coverage were severely affected.
Fr McClure, Helidon’s parish priest of the past eight years, said the town’s riverbed now bore testimony to the fury that descended on the Lockyer Valley on that terrible Monday.
“Helidon’s river bed is four times as wide as it was before the huge wall of water tore through here,” he said.
“It was mid afternoon when it arrived … I heard the water roaring as it came through here.”
Fr McClure found himself involved in the tragedy as emergency services started bringing people rescued from Grantham into the Helidon community hall.
“Their rescues were remarkable,” he said.
“Emergency services were saving them in the most perilous circumstances in boats.
“Most of those rescued were then taken in buckets of front end loaders along Lawlers Road to waiting four-wheel-drive vehicles which then took them on to the hall at Helidon.
“Close to 140 men, women and children were brought in through Monday night and a further 100 arrived through Tuesday, many of these having been rescued by helicopter.”
Fr Conway meanwhile was stuck in Gatton.
“Roads throughout the region were blocked while all these people were struggling with what was happening,” he said.
“I couldn’t get to places like Grantham and even if I could, I would have been a nuisance to police and emergency services.”
As soon as water went down, Fr Conway drove around as best he could to see what was happening.
“By that stage people, particularly in Laidley area, were getting on and cleaning things up,” he said.
“A lot of cooperation simply happened this seemed to be across the board in the Lockyer Valley.
“I saw people who had been evacuated from their own homes working in emergency centres.
“They were reaching out even in the midst of their own crises.”
Bishop Morris said the road to recovery for many of the people impacted by the floods would be “long and complex” and that “aftershocks” whenever a storm struck were still occurring.
“People in Toowoomba bearing up very well at this stage – but of course there are many questions like: How could this happen in Toowoomba?
“The spirit of locals is great although many are certainly having their moments…why wouldn’t they?
“For example when clouds get dark and two inches of rain falls and when the creeks start to rise of course they’ll wonder how high they’ll get.
“Really the storms are like the aftershocks of an earthquake. Elderly people seem to be particularly feeling it.
“Some have lived through horrific events – now they’re finding it difficult to cope with aftershocks.
“Many are having trouble sleeping because of what they’ve seen, heard and gone through.”
Bishop Morris said businesses are also suffering and have been “badly knocked around” in places like Helidon and Withcott with business owners starting to already experience serious income problems.”
Bishop Morris said he was currently putting an itinerary together to visit the flood-devastated communities throughout his diocese.
As well as the Lockyer Valley, their names have become increasingly familiar including Chinchilla, Roma, St George and Dalby.
“The approach is to support local community to help each other by using local businesses, for example.
“We’re all trying to help whole community to grow together and repair their lives.
“I’m already seeing many wonderful gestures of generosity, some from people who have plenty of troubles of their own.”
Bishop Morris said the most important way to help the people of the Lockyer recover was to listen to what they were saying.
“Those looking to help should not impose themselves on these local communities – just listen and respond to their needs,” he said.
For information on the flood relief account being set up in Gatton parish contact (07) 54621127 or Gatton@bne.catholic.net.au.