Seroja recovery: ‘tailored approach’ needed to rebuild communities

Headshot of Liam Beatty
Liam BeattyMidwest Times
Clean-up efforts after Cyclone Seroja.
Camera IconClean-up efforts after Cyclone Seroja. Credit: Simon Santi/The West Australian

Entrusted with leading the recovery effort following Cyclone Seroja, State co-ordinator Melissa Pexton firmly believes all emergencies are local and solutions will come from those on the ground.

Ahead of her fourth tour of the 35,000sqkm impact area this week, Ms Pexton said her role was to speak with the affected communities and make sure they get the support they needed.

“I’m always in awe of people during emergencies, we’ve truly seen the best in people over the past five weeks,” she said.

“At the moment we’re still trying to take stock, the majority of the clean-up is complete and we’re working with the 13 local governments affected to see what their needs are and address those.”

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She said it was not her job to “throw” solutions from the State level at communities, but to listen and work with those on the ground.

Six weeks after the cyclone hit, most of the clean-up has finished and she said the focus of the recovery was now on addressing the accommodation shortage, building a workforce and ensuring there was welfare to support residents.

“It’s important to recognise the affected communities have different needs,” she said.

“Kalbarri has an industry built around tourism while Perenjori, Chapman Valley, Morawa and Mingenew are primary producers, so we have to tailor support.”

“These are resilient communities and we saw an amazing can-do attitude initially, but we’re starting to see fatigue set in and it’s important we address that.”

Minister for Emergency Services Reece Whitby, Melissa Pexton and with DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm tour Kalbarri.
Camera IconMinister for Emergency Services Reece Whitby, Melissa Pexton and with DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm tour Kalbarri. Credit: Supplied

Coordinators are working with the Department of Communities, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army to offer counselling and support in these communities.

More than 1100 structures were damaged by Seroja, including at least 882 homes leading to fears regional families might be forced to move which would threaten the survival of the small towns they call home.

Ms Pexton said stemming population loss was a “top priority” for coordinators, but conceded the recovery effort was likely to take two years.

“The reality is housing stocks in some communities is a challenge,” she said, adding residents would likely see rebuilding begin in the coming months.

She said building workers’ accommodation units to attract tradies as proposed by the Master Builders’ Association was “on the table” but coordinators were being careful to not hurt local businesses.

The insurance bill has risen to a staggering $112 million from 4614 insurance claims according to the Insurance Council of Australia, but Ms Pexton expected the real cost would be much higher.

“It’s too early to tell what the damage bill is, but it’s expected to be much higher than that,” she said.

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