By Antony Balmain and James Molan
Thousands of Australians have been forced to abandon their homes, and many towns have been left isolated as heavy rainfall has caused flood waters to rise in south-western Queensland and northern New South Wales.
Flood waters in parts of Queensland have started to recede, but the situation is still challenging for communities in northern New South Wales, who remain isolated.
Several towns have experienced their worst floods on record. The town of St George in south-western Queensland has been evacuated, with around 3,000 people forced to leave their homes, many moving into evacuation centres in Dalby and Brisbane which are managed by the Australian Red Cross. More than 150 Australian Red Cross staff and volunteers are working in evacuation and recovery centres in the flood-affected towns across the region.
Kevin Keeffe, Australian Red Cross Executive Director in Queensland, said it has been a distressing time for many communities in Queensland and New South Wales. “People who have been forced to leave their homes face a challenging period of uncertainty and disruption to their lives. The Australian Red Cross will be there providing support to the flood affected communities," he said.
"The response of our volunteers to this disaster has been fantastic. In total, we now have more than 150 Red Cross people assisting with the relief effort and managing evacuation centres, and more will come on-board as required."
Mary Stanton, an elder in the Kamilaroi Aboriginal community and a resident of St George, said it was traumatic leaving her town along with her friends and family, although she said a volunteer provided great assistance. "I was just about in tears. I didn't want to leave and he calmed me down, just made me feel a lot better. The Red Cross people have just been marvellous. Absolutely marvellous,” she said.
Mary has called the town of St George home for much of her life. It is the third year in a row that the community has faced flooding. Over the last two years, Mary's house was spared from the floods but they faced power cuts for days, and huge problems with their sewage connection.
She said her family now has a nervous wait but are keen to return home to see what damage has been done to her home and the community. "It is so terrifying for me, and for all of us. We've got to go home."
The Australian Red Cross recovery teams are starting to assist people on their return, which is a long, often complex, and tiring process.
"We are still active in communities where the flood peak has passed. We have sent specialist recovery teams to help people in the towns of Roma and Mitchellas they slowly return to their homes and begin the clean-up process," Kevin Keeffe said.
At the request of Queensland Police, the Australian Red Cross is assisting people in south-west Queensland to get in touch with family and friends through the National Registration and Inquiry System.
People in towns and areas affected by the floods who are unable to reach their family and friends by traditional means are encouraged to register their name and whereabouts using the online system.