.- As floodwaters begin to recede in the urban center of Brisbane and other submerged areas, Catholic charities and churches throughout Queensland expect it will take years to recover fully from the worst flooding in the Australian state's history.
The first priority is to provide shelter and other accommodations for evacuees throughout the second-largest and third most-populated area of Australia, which is larger than Texas and California combined.
During the deluge's third week, on Jan. 11, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh declared three-quarters of her state to be a disaster area– including the city of Brisbane, which is home to almost 2 million people.
The Auxiliary Bishop of Brisbane, Rev. Brian Finnigan, told the Archdiocese of Sydney's Catholic Communications office that parishes and schools throughout the Archdiocese of Brisbane were “opening their doors to assist those affected.” Other church ministries, however, were in a position of waiting for relief rather than offering it.
“Our central archdiocesan office is closed,” the auxiliary bishop noted, “and we have no power, no lifts and no lights.”
According to local clergy, many individuals are exhibiting a generous spirit of helping others cope with the disaster while dealing with its impact themselves.
Fr. John Conway, a priest of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, is the administrator of three parishes in the southeastern Queensland city of Toowoomba. He said that flood victims throughout the archdiocese were “reaching out even in the midst of their own crises.”
“Many places still have no drinking water,” he said. “We can't get fuel, milk, bread. We're basically rationing everything.” Nevertheless, he said, “I've seen people who have been evacuated from their homes working in emergency centres.”
The St. Vincent de Paul Society, Australia's major Catholic charity, is providing substantial assistance to Queenslanders facing the loss of their homes and livelihoods. Its “flood appeal” has dramatically increased in scope, as the water swept through rural areas and reached Brisbane's urban center.
That charity is also in a position of simultaneously coping with the disaster and helping others do so. Some of its own facilities are submerged, leaving clothing and other resources ruined beneath the muddy waters. Because of damage to roads and other infrastructure, the charitable society is not able to ship out goods to many areas, though it is transferring funds for relief.
Brian Moore, the President of St. Vincent de Paul in Queensland, announced on Jan. 13 that the charity had formed a flood relief committee. “We are appealing for money ... to give concrete support to those affected,” he said. Once the water subsides, he said, the society would “be there for months meeting the needs of people.”
He described the human impact of the floods –which have killed at least 19 people and left 61 missing, as “heart wrenching.” In Brisbane alone, more than 25,000 homes may be left uninhabitable, while damage to Queensland's rural areas could take a toll on its agriculture and mining industries for years to come.