The long tail of flood devastation



At this time of year, the northern NSW region is buzzing with harvest.

Instead, the city of 8,000 and its farming community spent weeks charting the damage from the second major flood in 18 months.

Among the many disastrous towns of eastern Australia, the people of Moree prepare for a long recovery.

The Defense Force helped clean up after 1,000 homes were damaged when the swollen Gwydir and Mehi Rivers overflowed their banks late last month.

Villages such as Mungindi, on the Queensland border, and remote properties have been isolated for weeks, relying on emergency services to fly in essential supplies.

There are fears that half of the region’s barley and wheat crops will be beyond saving and farmers will be unable to sow cotton, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.

“They will have to be without income for at least 12 months,” Mayor Mark Johnson told AAP.

“They are not going to spend that much in the city, so there are also ordinary working-class families who will suffer the consequences.

“Farmers will lose millions of dollars, but this has a ripple effect for everyone in the city.”

Moree, which has a $1 billion agricultural sector, looked forward to a bright future.

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The region was staged as an example of a thriving community, attracting an influx of tree changers during COVID-19 lockdowns due to its lucrative industry and peaceful rural lifestyle.

Johnson says the disappointment and pain of two floods will be permanent.

“It may sound dramatic to say it will take years to recover, but it probably is.

“There will be some very saddened and discouraged farmers because they were so close to the harvest.

“We need a few good years to soften the blow.”

The historic opal mining town of Lightning Ridge, west of Moree, has been closed due to flooded and damaged roads.

Ana Vastag, who has a community garden, says the city lives on canned and frozen food from the supermarket, and that its vegetables and leafy greens are in high demand.

While the mood is calm, some have had to cancel long-awaited medical appointments in Dubbo or Bourke.

“We are used to severe weather and people are taking it their way,” says Ms Vastag.

“It’s not desperate yet, but if it goes on for another week, maybe it will.”

There have been as many as 100 emergency alerts across NSW this week, as communities along the Murray River in Victoria remain on alert, as do parts of rural Tasmania.

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National charity Rural Aid, which provides financial and emotional support, is hearing from people who have experienced six floods in the past 18 months.

“Each of those events erodes people’s resilience a little bit more,” said CEO John Warlters.

Many victims of February’s devastating floods in southern Queensland and the NSW Northern Rivers are just beginning to come to terms with the sheer magnitude of the disaster.

“There was an initial emotional reaction, then people usually get busy getting their properties back in order,” said Mr Warlters.

“They stand against fences and fix equipment, but then hit a flat spot and realize, ‘I’m glad I’m back where I want it, but I’m not sure where I am as a person’. “

A 2020 study on rural adversity published in the Medical Journal of Australia highlighted the urgent need for ongoing health and wellness programs in rural areas due to the spiraling effects of repeated disasters.

dr. Hazel Dalton, a senior researcher at Charles Sturt University’s Rural Health Research Institute, says the term “wet drought” will resonate with many as there has been little relief from rain for nearly two years.

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“If it’s unpredictable or if you have a greater exposure to it, we know there’s a higher chance of mental health problems, especially around mental health issues and the potential for post-traumatic stress disorder,” says Dr. Dalton.

While rural people may have to wait and travel long distances for personal mental health care, Dr. Dalton, in the meantime, encouraged the use of online resources such as MindSpot and This Way Up.

“When you support someone, it’s people-to-people contact, that support and presence is invaluable, a good neighbor and a good friend.

“If you’re concerned about someone, it’s good to be direct and try to connect, even if they put you off a little.”

Warlters says the physical, emotional and financial costs of the floods are unfathomable and rural Australians should not be forgotten.

“They are very proud people, and seeking help and asking for help is not something that comes naturally.

“We must realize that when the water recedes, or the fire is extinguished, or the rain ends a drought, that is not the end.

“The problem lingers much longer.”

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