Volunteers rebuild flood-ravaged Townsville

Along with everyday items, free Bibles are on offer to people in need

It’s almost a month since floodwaters wreaked havoc in Townsville, in northern Queensland, inundating more than 3300 homes and creating a damage bill that’s climbing towards $900 million.

And while life is beginning to return to normal for some residents outside the immediate flood zone, others are still battling to find accommodation and deal with insurance claims. For some, their possessions still sit ruined on the footpath.

“That’s just part of the trauma that people are going through at the moment.” – Rob Rolley

“It’s a traumatic time for people to see, basically, their life being moved out onto the kerbside, ready to be picked up in a dump truck,” says Rob Rolley, who is in Townsville as head of Samaritan’s Purse National Disaster Relief Unit. “That’s just part of the trauma that people are going through at the moment.”

The Samaritan’s Purse team has been on the ground to help local churches, government and other agencies in the clean-up effort since February 7 – although it “seems like an eternity”, according to Rolley. His team is made up of seven members, along with more than 200 local volunteers who have assisted during the past few weeks.

While the team has already clocked up 1200 hours in volunteer effort – mostly in relocating or removing furniture from flood-affected homes – he says there is still much work to be done.

The main problem afflicting homes, both in and outside the direct flood zone, is mould. “Mould is a real problem and it’s going to continue to be quite an issue for local government and householders to manage. We saw a house yesterday where the lady claims that in a week, her whole ceiling had become black with mould,” says Rolley, whose team is now assisting with mould treatments.

“It has a particular impact on the elderly, the frail, or those people with special needs who, because of some infirmity or their age, are not physically able to climb a step ladder and start washing down their ceilings and walls.”

“There are quite a number of people who are couch-surfing, living with friends, neighbours, whoever they can.” – Rob Rolley

Another pressing need for those who have had to move out of their home is semi-permanent accommodation.

“There are quite a number of people who are couch-surfing, living with friends, neighbours, whoever they can. There are people living in motels and other temporary places that the government or insurance companies are paying for.”

While for many residents this accommodation is needed only until their house is fit to live in again, others who were not insured are facing even greater challenges.

“That’s a real difficulty for them as to what they do next – where do they go, how do they rebuild, what’s the next step in their life,” says Rolley.

The need for emotional support for Townsville residents will continue. “For a lot of people, it’s going to be a new normal. Mentally and emotionally, some people recover from these things quickly, while for other people it can take years. Some people battle with it for the rest of their life,” says Rolley.

“There is a concern about an escalation of domestic violence.” – Bruce Cornish

Minister of local church Townsville Central City Mission, Bruce Cornish, is part of a committee led by the local council and community that aims to provide people with emotional support. Residents call them “Team Townsville”, a local recovery cooperative sending out teams to ask how people are and what support they need.

Beyond the immediate needs of Townsville, Cornish highlights a potential increase in abuse: “There is a concern about an escalation of domestic violence. That’s always the case after a natural disaster like this – people get a bit aggro and slip back into patterns of behaviour after the initial clean-up is done.”

To help meet the spiritual needs of the local community, Bible Society Australia will replace any Bibles damaged in the flood with new versions. As well as contacting local churches, Bible Society Australia extends this offer to any individual in the Townsville region.

“The offer is unlimited,” says Chris Melville, Head of Mission at Bible Society Australia. “We guarantee to replace all Bibles that have been lost, and it’s a straight swap. So, if you had a study Bible, then we’ll give a study Bible back. Or if you had a pew Bible, then we’ll give a pew Bible.”

“To have Bibles available … in your native language … is significant.” – Bruce Cornish

Some of the first Bibles to be replaced are those belonging to the Korean congregation at Cornish’s church. About 20 Korean-language Bibles were lost when the home of the Korean congregation’s leader was flooded.

Cornish notes the impact that replacing the Bibles will have: “Many of the congregation read Korean better than they read English. So to have Bibles available, not just for the church services but also for Bible study, in your native language … is significant.”

Meanwhile, Samaritan’s Purse is continuing to call for more volunteers to help in Townsville.

“We have an urgent need for volunteers at the moment. As local people have gone back to work, they’re tired, they’re weary. They’re trying to re-establish their lives and their work.

“So we need volunteers – we need volunteers.”

For information about Bible Society Australia’s flood-damaged Bible replacement offer, visit biblesociety.org.au/replace-your-bible.

For more information or to volunteer for Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Relief Unit, email [email protected].