Cairns celebrates Christmas as Cyclone Jasper clean up continues

26 December 2023

Cairns celebrates Christmas as Cyclone Jasper clean up continues

When tropical cyclone Jasper made landfall just north of Port Douglas on 13 December, the Cairns Salvos were already preparing. Jasper hit the coast as a category two cyclone and took almost five days to move west, leaving a metre of rain and devastated communities in its wake. Many remote communities are still cut off.

Major Ben Johnson, Cairns Corps Officer, is coordinating The Salvation Army’s response to the cyclone and floods in Far North Queensland, in conjunction with the Human and Social sub-committee formed by local council.

“The Salvation Army Emergency Services [SAES] team began feeding people at the Edmonton evacuation centre in Cairns on 12 December, as well as doing welfare checks on people in the community – as requested by council,” said Ben.

“Staff and volunteers also provided towels, bedding, stretchers and clothing for evacuation centres from Sunday 17 December. We have also been instrumental in transporting a lot of community members from the affected flood areas to the evacuation centres and then on to temporary accommodation provided by Queensland’s Department of Housing.”

Teams were also catering at the Edmonton evacuation centre, providing food, hot and cold drinks, and emotional support. They were stood down once the cyclone had passed but reactivated due to the widespread and severe flooding.

“Our staff and volunteers have been incredible and inspiring in action and in spirit,” Ben said. “We are doing whatever is needed, such as providing food at the evacuation centre, processing toys for Christmas, doing welfare checks on people affected by the cyclone, putting together hampers for those in need and working with our family stores to get household supplies.

“For Cairns, the cyclone was a ‘bad weather event’, but the flooding is much more significant.”

Relief supplies reach Cooktown

Lincoln Stevens, SAES State Coordinator, who is part of the relief efforts in Cooktown, reported that in collaboration with Queensland Police Service (QPS) and Woolworths, the Salvos have arranged a truck with 14 pallets of supplies to be delivered to the helicopters on standby, to then be delivered to Cooktown Airport.

The logistics of this operation were massive – from Sunday night (17 December) where the Woolies staff at distribution centre worked through the night to get the load ready for pickup on Monday, and the lining up of available helicopters, to December 21, when they landed in Cooktown every few hours.

“It was an amazing effort from the SAES team and so many others at the airport including Police, helicopter pilots, forklift drivers, airport staff and many more who helped unload the helicopters and load the goods into utes, trucks and vans and bring back them to the centre”, says Lincoln.

Christmas is coming

Alison Geno, Intercultural Ministry worker at Cairns Corps, says she doesn’t “have the right words to really explain all that is happening!”

“For the past 48 hours, we have been totally engaged in the disaster, as well as Christmas food and toy hampers,” she said. “The SAES [was] catering at the evacuation centre to those affected by the cyclone and flooding. Christmas is still coming, and we’re trying to get Christmas hampers and toys – all the usual Salvos Christmas stuff – done. And some of our volunteers, as well as two staff members, have themselves experienced the impact of the cyclone and flooding and are continuing to come in to help others.

“I am just so proud of everyone. The Cairns community has stepped up, especially considering some people have lost a bunch of stuff but are still prepared to come out and help others. They’re awesome.”

Alison explained that the Home League had kicked off the hamper program three weeks ago. “It’s lucky they did, as it’s a bit hectic at the moment,” she said.

“The toys for Mornington Island had been taken out before the cyclone, which is great because we can’t get out there now. And we had already sent toys and some hampers to a few Aboriginal communities, Child Safety and Aged Care up in the Cape [Cape York].

“Our hampers and toys assessments have been operating since the beginning of November. We had 500 accounted for and planned on our list. When the disaster hit, all sorts of things ramped up. Many people who were doing fine no longer are, and more people need more for Christmas.

“We had to stop production in this space for four days when the disaster first hit. Once it was safe, community members started coming in. We served 100 people on Monday and expect to double that today.”

Woolworths is trying to fill some of the additional hamper requests. “Salvos are about 140 hampers short at the moment, but all the supermarkets are struggling to access food stocks,” Ben explained.

The Salvos are also packing some toys and hampers for other agencies in town that put in requests every year at Christmas – agencies that assist people with disabilities, families in crisis, domestic violence organisations and others.

Support from the community

Alison shared that the business and local communities have been supporting the Salvos Christmas Cheer, as well as generous individuals and groups.

“Woolworths, IGA, Frontier and other local businesses in Cairns have put so much towards Christmas Cheer,” she said. “Their generosity has been incredible. What we do is only possible because of the generous support we receive and our amazing volunteers.

“We are looking forward to Christmas and to everything being cleaned up and repaired. That will be the reality for our town for a while. And we will be here!”

The Salvation Army in Cairns has been activated to assist with recovery efforts in the disaster-hit town. To learn more about how we’re helping people and communities impacted by Cyclone Jasper, visit our disasters and emergencies page.

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