April 4, 2017

Adventist Humanitarian Agency Runs to Help After Cyclone in Australia

Kent Kingston and Josh Dye, Adventist Record

Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) workers ran to North Queensland, Australia, to assess the damages after Category 4 Cyclone Debbie smashed into the coast on March 28. At first, their efforts were hampered by rising floodwaters and debris blocking major roads.

According to the first media reports, businesses and boats sustained major damage. A man was injured when a wall fell on him, and a woman died in a vehicle accident in which the weather was believed to be a factor.

“The worst part was the unknown,” said Cannonvale resident Brian Forrester. “There were seven of us sheltering together, and were fortunate to be in a cyclone-rated home and had done adequate preparations. But the house was humming and vibrating from the wind, which is crazy considering it’s built on a concrete slab!”

By March 29 the cyclone had been downgraded to a tropical depression, but heavy rain was still falling along the Queensland coast. But ADRA Australia emergency manager Kevin Munro correctly predicted that flooding would increase as rain continued to fall inland with coastal communities feeling the effects.

Pastor David Asscherick and his Kingscliff, New South Wales, congregation were praying that the floodwaters would recede enough so that their Arise event would be able to go ahead last Friday. [Photo: Chris Hess]

Northern Australia ADRA director Charlene Luzuk stayed in the town of Ayr while the cyclone hit. “Ayr is fine,” she said.“A few trees down—nothing major.” She and Graham Robbins, an ADRA volunteer, Ayr church member and former firefighter, drove south to visit other communities that took the brunt of the storm. They took a generator with them as well as a chainsaw. However, their progress was hampered by rising floodwaters that, according to media reports, blocked a highway in three places. More than 60,000 properties spent last Tuesday without electricity. Authorities warned them it could take a week before they’re able to switch the power back on. Phone reception—both landline and mobile—is either patchy or non-existent.

Teams from Adventist churches in Mackay are on standby to assist people affected by the cyclone, Munro said. Adventists from all over eastern and northern Australia have expressed their willingness to volunteer in the relief effort.

As the Waters Rose

By Thursday, March 30, as the waters rose as predicted, ADRA volunteers at the Kingscliff Evacuation Centre in Northern Rivers region helped more than 150 people find emergency accommodation.

ADRA New South Wales Emergency Coordinator Janice Frey said flooded roads and full motels were proving a challenge. “There are a lot of people in evacuation centers, and we’re accommodating as many as we can. But road access and motel capacity are significant problems. Canceled flights and extra personnel in the area mean many motels are full.”

At Kyogle Adventist church, ADRA volunteers have accommodated three people, while church members and community organizations have banded together to assist flood evacuees by preparing dozens of meals in the church kitchen.

ADRA has an active presence helping evacuees find accommodation at other evacuation centers. ADRA’s role is to provide accommodation for people in motels in the first few days after a disaster. The church humanitarian agency worked closely with the New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services at the centers.

South Queensland Conference ADRA Director Irena Larking said despite significant rainfall over the past few days, the situation appeared to be calm.

“On Thursday, we had one distressed phone call from two families in Gladstone, but they are okay now,” Larking said.

“We’re working closely with local churches and pastors who are feeding information to us. Once we know the needs, we can assess and help where we can.”