Seroja rebuild in the Mid West a slow one

By Bree Swift
Updated January 27 2022 - 4:06am, first published November 27 2021 - 11:00pm
Some of the damage from ex-Tropical Cyclone Seroja at Rob Horstman's property, Mulga Springs, just east of Northampton.

MID West communities are still reeling 10 months on from ex-Tropical Cyclone Seroja, as the recovery and rebuilding process continues to take its toll on those living in the region.

Tarps on roofs remain a common sight in Northampton and Kalbarri, providing a constant reminder to locals of the devastating impact and trauma of experiencing Cyclone Seroja.

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With about 70 per cent of both town's buildings destroyed or damaged by the cyclone, many residents and small businesses have reported issues in having their insurance claims approved by their providers and sought assistance from community organisations.

And that's not even mentioning those who weren't insured in the first place.

The challenges of rebuilding the Mid West have been exacerbated by the State's building boom, border closures and worker shortages created by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the region unable to secure the labour needed.

Northampton Cyclone Response Committee (NCRC) chairman Rob Horstman, who is a local community member who has been a part of the recovery process since day one, said there have been some elements of recovery but acknowledged that it was always going to be a very slow process.

Despite the Commonwealth and State governments committing $104 million to the cyclone recovery effort in July last year, Mr Horstman said his local community hadn't seen as much evidence of the funds on the ground as initially hoped.

"It was a lovely banner headline for the government to be able to announce, but the devil is in the detail," Mr Horstman said.

"DFES and their community recovery officers that we have on the ground are doing all that they can, but unfortunately a lot of that money seems to be quite locked up because of State government processes.

"The beauty of the NCRC is that we were agile, we were funded and were able to make decisions very quickly, but I know that State government departments aren't in that same situation."

The purpose of the NCRC has gradually changed since Seroja, with the committee's initial objective to provide an acute response to those in need and support the Northampton Shire.

"We started a fund where we distributed about $25,000 to local people, but it's since become about trying to facilitate events or connect people with the relevant bodies to help them with things such as insurance or building," Mr Horstman said.

"We are trying to help fill the gaps, where the departments that are helping might be a little bit too cumbersome or slow.

"For example, we will engage local politicians to facilitate insurance seminars or open days to help people to get the grants they are entitled to.

"At the moment we're working on getting a builder and engineer to come to Northampton to help those who are either under-insured or uninsured, to get the reports needed to access funding."

Similar types of support are also being provided by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) four community recovery officers, who work in "recovery hubs" located in Kalbarri, Northampton, Geraldton and Morawa.

Open Monday to Friday, the hubs do outreach programs to outlying communities such as Yuna, Mullewa and the Chapman Valley.

The role of the DFES community recovery officers has been to provide advice and facilitate conversations between individuals, local governments and community groups, to ensure communities have some buy-in in terms of the recovery planning process.

Mr Horstman said the ultimate KPI for the handling of Seroja would be how many people end up leaving the region, with some already having relocated.

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"All of us have been working towards that one goal of trying to reduce the number of people that leave, because if people do we will probably lose our bank, our schools will get smaller and our football teams will shrink and that will be to the detriment of our communities," Mr Horstman said.

  • Read more about the Cyclone Seroja recovery efforts and from the State Recovery Control Officer Melissa Pexton in next week's Farm Weekly.

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