Cyclone-hit towns fear an exodus after people lose homes

Headshot of Geoff Vivian
Geoff VivianMidwest Times
A Mingenew house badly damaged by Cyclone Seroja.
Camera IconA Mingenew house badly damaged by Cyclone Seroja. Credit: Fi Cosgrove/Supplied, Fi Cosgrove

Cyclone Seroja has forced dozens of people out of their homes after it carved a path of destruction through inland farming communities, including 25 adults and four children in Mingenew.

Shire president Gary Cosgrove said the 29 displaced residents were a big concern amid fears the town’s already dwindling population would drop further.

“We are really worried that if we don’t do something for these people they will leave town,” he said.

“If they leave town we will never get them back.

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“Our biggest threat to small towns is declining population — we can’t afford to lose anyone.”

In nearby Perenjori, the local Shire has provided housing in town for nine adults and four children displaced from homes on farms and two adults from the town site.

Another person has found other accommodation.

Carnamah Shire chief executive Vin Fordham Lamont said people had been displaced from two homes in town but owners had moved back into one after repairs.

Mr Cosgrove said many of the houses destroyed in the cyclone were probably only insured for $100,000-$150,000 but would cost up to $350,000 to replace at today’s boom prices.

“A lot of these people are retired or pensioners who haven’t got the wherewithal to make a difference,” he said.

Mingenew Shire chief executive Nils Hay said 21 of the displaced adults and the four children lived up to 50km from town.

“They need to be living on or near the farm for it to be viable,” he said.

A lot of these individuals are seeding at the moment, you have got a damaged house, husband out seeding 12-15 hours a day, and the wife managing kids and the office and trying to arrange insurance.

Mr Hay said while none were homeless they had made temporary arrangements such as staying with family and friends, or moving into farm workers’ accommodation which would be needed for seasonal staff.

“We have a pub and caravan park that will be booked out for wildflower season so where are these farm workers going to stay?” he said.

“For people on farm they need a suitable form of temporary accommodation to see them through his period

“We need to see the insurance companies stepping up and providing that support.”

After meeting Shire representatives WA Shadow Housing minister Steve Martin said there would be a delay getting the permanent structures rebuilt.

“In the meantime the State has to focus on some sort of temporary housing response and that needs to happen very quickly,” he said.

“Farmers are very nervous about housing for staff as well as their families so I’ll be calling on housing Minister Carey and the Premier to let us know what the plan is and quickly.”

Liberal member for the Agricultural region Steve Martin.
Camera IconLiberal member for the Agricultural region Steve Martin. Credit: Geoff Vivian/The Geraldton Guardian, Geoff Vivian

A WA Government spokesperson said the State would provide $4000 for residents in 13 local government areas whose houses had been destroyed or badly damaged by Seroja.

“Residents can use the funds to access shelter, maintain family cohesion, and provide a bridge to longer term public or private housing,” she said.

“The Department of Communities is responsible for providing temporary shelter for people rendered homeless during and in the immediate aftermath of an emergency.

“To support this, Communities offers Temporary Living Expenses Assistance to help people with accessing temporary accommodation for a period of up to three weeks.

“This financial support is available to people who are uninsured or who are not yet receiving insurance.”

A team of lawyers and financial planners is offering free advice to cyclone affected people in the Mid West this week until Wednesday.

Morawa Shire has 30 residential properties that were either severely damaged or entirely destroyed.

“This represents a significant proportion of the community,” chief executive Scott Wildgoose said.

“Whilst exact numbers are not known the Shire knows of at least 16 adults and 11 children who have been unable to live normally in their homes due to cyclone damage.”

Chapman Valley, Irwin,Coorow and Three Springs Shires and the City of Greater Geraldton have been contacted for comment.

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