Preventing population loss in focus of Cyclone Seroja recovery

Headshot of Liam Beatty
Liam BeattyGeraldton Guardian
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

Stemming population loss from towns left bleeding after cyclone Seroja is a “top priority” for the woman tasked with co-ordinating the recovery from the natural disaster.

With hundreds of homes left uninhabitable in the wake of thecyclone, recovery co-ordinator Melissa Pexton said local governments were voicing concerns that regional families might be forced to move, calling into question the survival of small towns.

She said addressing the housing problem for hundreds of displaced residents was of key importance, six weeks since Seroja tore through the region.

“This is an issue local governments are raising extensively with me,” Ms Pexton said.

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“We’ll do everything we can to stop population loss and keep these communities healthy.”

Ms Pexton will this week embark on her fourth tour of the region, meeting with affected communities and those leading the recovery effort on the ground.

She warned signs of cyclone fatigue were already becoming noticeable in hard-hit communities.

Ms Pexton said seeing how supportive neighbours had been to those affected was “wonderful”, and local solutions to the housing crisis, such as repurposing holiday accommodation and caravan parks, were a great stopgap measure.

“But the reality is housing stocks in some of these communities is a serious challenge,” she said.

“Hopefully we’ll start to see the rebuilding begin in the next few months.”

The insurance bill was last week revealed by the Insurance Council of Australia to be a staggering $112 million from 4614 insurance claims, but Ms Pexton expected the real cost would be much higher.

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

She said most of the clean-up was complete and co-ordinators were working with the 13 affected local governments to see what their needs were. Ms Pexton said recovery co-ordinators were prioritising addressing the accommodation shortage without affecting local businesses; building a workforce for the recovery job; and ensuring there was welfare to support residents.

“We don’t want to throw our solutions from a State level at these communities, we want to listen and do what’s needed,” she said.

“We’ve truly seen the best in people over the past five weeks, but we’re starting to see fatigue set in, and it’s so important we address that as a community.”

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