A series of natural disasters in January and February ravaged parts of Queensland and Victoria causing immense destruction and suffering for many, but thankfully, Good Samaritan Sisters and ministries in the affected areas have been relatively unscathed.
Good Samaritan Sister Therese Marie Fleming, who lives in Giru, a small town about 60 kilometres south-east of Townsville, said Cyclone Yasi was unlike other cyclones she’d experienced because this time she was situated ‘in the eye’ or the centre of the cyclone.
“It was an enormous cyclone,” she said.
“The wind was fierce and rain torrential, and the noise like that heard in a plane when it lands full throttle, but multiply it about four times”.
“I sat up all night. You didn’t know what else to do just in case something happened or the roof went,” she explained.
Therese Marie felt very peaceful for most of the time. Having access to radio helped a lot but “when the cyclone really hit I did feel sort of scared, shaken, and then I was alright”. She also admits to feeling some shock a few days later.
For four days after the cyclone she was without power, water and any phone, mobile or email. To add to her isolation, she was flooded in because the banks of the nearby Haughton River had broken during the cyclone.
But compared with others, Therese Marie said she wasn’t very affected. “You keep thinking of all the people up in Cardwell, Tully; they’ve just got nothing. We’re very well off really.”
Therese Marie was appreciative of the support she received from sisters and friends who phoned from all parts of Australia as the cyclone approached. “I even heard from Belgium, where at the American College of Louvain, they said they were saying Mass for us.”
Good Samaritan Sister Una McGarry will never forget being in Toowoomba on January 10 when an inland tsunami wreaked havoc in the city’s central business district.
Una had left work around lunchtime and arrived at a local supermarket as monsoonal rain inundated the area. “The noise of thunder, lightning and the rain was unbelievable,” she said.
For about 15 minutes she watched in amazement with others from a covered carpark as vehicles and people outside tried to negotiate the teeming rain and fast-flowing water that was quickly filling gutters.
When the rain eased Una decided to continue her shopping but soon discovered chaotic scenes in other parts of town. She was astonished to see people about two blocks from her, standing on either side of a normally small drain that was filled about half-a-block wide with choppy flood waters carrying furniture and other debris.
She saw flooded shops, cars under water and a house whose side wall had collapsed due to the force of the water, revealing furnished upper and ground floors “as if it was a dolls house on display”.
Seeing all this, Una thought she wouldn’t get home that night, so she decided to buy a few supplies and return to her workplace. However, when she came out of the supermarket, she was amazed to find that all the water had disappeared.
“It had gone in a raging torrent so fast that it had suctioned all the water with it. There was just wet ground covered in thick mud, and great destruction, but no puddles anywhere,” she explained.
But this wall of water had moved on to cause terror and devastation in the nearby Lockyer Valley.
When Una finally arrived home she was “gratefully surprised” to find her unit intact, however, there were signs of damage and debris in her street.
“I came in and had my evening meal, thanking God that I was okay and the place was okay and feeling very amazed by it all,” she said.
While many communities in Brisbane suffered excessive flood damage, Lourdes Hill College in Hawthorn, which overlooks the Brisbane River, experienced minor flooding in its water-sports facility.
College Principal Robyn Anderson said staff worked hard to ensure that all was ready for the girls’ return to school.
“We always look forward to seeing the girls in orientation week but this year all staff were particularly anxious to make sure ‘their girls’ and their families were safe and well,” she said.
“Our families and staff generally seem to have escaped the very worst of things and there is an air of anticipation and ‘relief’ to be returning to the routine of school,” she said.
For Robyn, the compassionate and generous response of so many during this time of crisis has embodied the Good Samaritan story.
The Lourdes Hill College community is also playing its part in assisting other flood-affected communities. Robyn said the College had committed to raise funds and provide learning materials for students at nearby Milpera State High, a school for migrant and refugee young people, which was severely damaged and lost all its resources.
Meanwhile, in south-western Victoria, many communities have also endured heavy rains and damaging floods. According to Good Samaritan Sister Veronica Quinn, an Education Officer for the Ballarat Diocese which incorporates the flood-affected areas, many communities are still battling the elements.
“In some areas, such as around Horsham, the rivers rose, flooded and gradually receded, so the clean up could begin. But in other parts of the diocese, the waters took a long time to come and are taking an even longer time to go.”
Veronica said some grape growers in Mildura will have to wait years because their vines have contracted a mould which will mean no crops of commercial standard in the near future.
“The small wheat town of Carlton has been badly affected. The whole town was inundated for a couple of weeks and many of the buildings are irreparable,” she said.
“Further to the east, around the Kerang area, there are still large tracts of land where the water sits, after three weeks. Many of those people involved feel forgotten.
“Our society is not geared or interested in those dramas that play themselves out over long periods of time!” said Veronica.