Unprecedented floods herald new threat of mega disasters

Unprecedented floods herald new threat of mega disasters

Rebuilding, mitigation and disaster response will all be challenged.

The record-setting floods that devastated Lismore and other parts of the NSW north coast could be a harbinger of a pattern of new mega disasters that will hit Australia over the coming years.

The Coordinator of the Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network, Rev. Dr. Stephen Robinson, said the scale of the flooding disaster on the north coast earlier this year was extraordinary and unprecedented.

“The floods that inundated Lismore in 2017 and caused enormous damage were two meters lower than the flood peak this time,” Rev. Robinson said

“It meant that a lot of parts of Lismore were inundated this time that had not been impacted by flooding before. That meant the sale of this disaster, the danger, the sheer number of people needing rescue from rooves, the need for emergency food and housing was simply on an unprecedented scale,” he said.

“This flood event was very different. The scale was beyond our imagination. It has shown us that previous records mean little. As we confront the impacts of climate change as a state, as a nation, we must grapple with the how we must respond.

“Even the Mayor of Lismore has said some parts of the town should not be rebuilt, such decisions will cause an incredible amount of social and personal stress.”

Rev. Robinson the recovery in Lismore and surrounds will be slow and painful. And hard questions much be asked about both the recovery and future flood mitigation both in northern NSW and across the country.

The flood events of February and March this year also hit the Hawkesbury and surrounding parts of Sydney. For all of these communities there was great hardship, loss of property and even fatalities.

Lismore’s disaster response was also complicated by a second flood event which brough new challenges and trauma to residents.

Rev. Robinson said from the outset in Lismore the Uniting Church was both impacted and engaged in the recovery response.

The Lismore Uniting Church with the Lismore Regional Mission was several meters under water. While the Coraki Uniting Church quickly became an evacuation centre surrounded by tents as the floodwater cut off the community.

And the NSW Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network (DRCN) quickly went into action.

The ecumenical and multifaith ministry of the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and ACT was created in 2008 and the network now incorporates 360 chaplains from 16 different denominations and faith groups.

 Over the flood emergency 71 chaplains were deployed into evacuation centres and recovery centres in flood affected areas, most of these in the northern rivers area.  There were teams also brought in from Sydney, Newcastle, South and Mid North Coast and Canberra. Some 20 chaplains were also deployed for the first time from Victoria (VCC-Emergencies Ministries).

“Many chaplains deployed several times, it is difficult and exhausting work. They sought to listen to those impacted by the disaster, to bring comfort and calm and to also help people navigate the help that is on offer from the government and other agencies,” Rev. Robinson said.

“But it is the work of the local ministers in the area and their congregations that must also be recognised, they did an outstanding job at a time when often their own homes and their own churches were inundated.

“And it will be these people that will also shoulder the difficult task of helping the community recover and heal.”

Rev. Robinson said as the last of the disaster chaplains will return home this week as the recovery centres are being closed down by the government and other agencies (Note: Recovery centres are  due to close on 6 May).

“These communities will take years to recover.  It’s so important that the church stands with these people as they find their way to health,” Rev. Robinson said

“It is why we are running a training course in the area later this month, it’s one of the ways we are seeking to provide support to the local churches.”

Stephen Robinson together with the Lismore Ministers’ Fellowship will be running a disaster recovery chaplaincy training course in the city on 24 and 25 May.

Martin Thomas

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