“Saints Act as 40-hour Storm Hits Brisbane,” Ensign, Apr. 1974, 70
As Australians prepared to celebrate their annual “Australia Day” weekend at the end of January, cyclone “Wanda” struck the eastern coast with tremendous force. For 40 hours, torrential rains and high winds buffeted the coastal city of Brisbane, capital of Queensland State, and neighboring Ipswich, 24 miles to the west. Many Latter-day Saints were among the 13,750 families forced to evacuate their homes as the swollen Brisbane River over-flowed its banks, swamped houses, and surged through the streets of the business districts.
Among those who endured the havoc of the flooding was Brother Malcolm Rea, public relations director for the Brisbane Australia Stake.
This is his report:
Cyclone “Wanda” left thousands homeless and hundreds of millions of dollars damage in its wake. Among those affected were members of the Brisbane, Brisbane Third, Inala, and Ipswich wards of the Brisbane Australia Stake.
In all, more than 30 LDS families had to evacuate the area and to concede that damage from the cyclone was going to inflict tens of thousands of dollars of damage to their homes and property. Twelve of the families lived in the Brisbane area, and five of their homes were inundated with water. Three of the other Saints’ homes were partially flooded.
The cyclone generated winds up to 58 miles per hour and rain fell on the already rain-soaked area at a rate of as much as five inches per hour, with 14 inches falling in one 24-hour period. The Bremer River, flowing through the industrial and mining town of Ipswich, crested at 62 feet, bursting over its banks and spilling water everywhere. Shops, houses, markets, industrial plants, warehouses, theaters, banks, and farms were filled with tons of muddy water.
On the coast, the sea churned to a fury, battered boats and jetties to pieces, and smashed houseboats into driftwood. Huge vessels on the Brisbane River broke their moorings, and one 62,000-ton tanker narrowly missed smashing a tall apartment building when it broke loose.
The Brisbane River crested at 21 feet 8 inches, nine feet above normal flood level. Rescue operations went on around the clock as portable floodlights lit up scenes of motorboats in flooded streets, and volunteers swimming from house to house rescuing people and goods.
Priesthood holders joined forces with the civil authorities in the rescue work and provided boats, trucks, trailers, and other necessary help. However, most of their energies were directed at evacuating ward members. Many of the Saints, although isolated, were not directly affected by the rising waters. Many were without normal supplies of milk, vegetables, bread, and power, but those participating in the Church food storage program suffered little hardship.
The Brisbane Third Ward established a Civil Defense center in their cultural hall for five days during the worst period of the flooding. Donated food, clothing, and bedding were stored in the ward building, and overnight accommodations for many flood victims were provided. Army trucks carried many loads of supplies from this center to the stricken areas.
During the height of the flood, Brisbane was completely isolated; the airport was closed and many suburbs were blacked out. More than 30,000 telephones were inoperative. Radio stations combined to provide weather reports, relief advice and messages, and road reports.
After five days, when the sun came out, the Relief Society sisters began washing mountains of muddy clothes. After first being hosed down, the clothes were rinsed and then washed three times before being hung on lines to dry. One sister, assisted by her nonmember neighbors, washed clothes for her large family for seven hours.
As the flood water subsided, the heartbreaking damage was apparent, and many members and nonmembers wept as they saw their mud-caked homes, ruined gardens, warped furniture, sagging walls, and dying trees. The air was filled with the smell of mud, rotting food, and dead animals.
But a great spirit of cooperation was manifested as members and nonmembers alike began to clean mud and debris from their homes. Relief Society sisters plowed their cars through slippery, muddy streets to provide food and drink and comfort and relief. Many priesthood holders took time from their employment to help in the cleanup operation, but it wasn’t until the first weekend after the flood that the work began in earnest. Thousands of volunteers turned out to help those in need. The local Saints were involved in groups organized under the priesthood, and could be seen shoveling mud, hosing walls, digging gardens, washing dishes, and scraping cracked paint.
At the end of the day, carloads of Saints drove home with mud-stained clothes, aching muscles, and blistered hands, but with full hearts.
One good thing that came from the terrible catastrophe was the spirit of brotherhood engendered as members and nonmembers throughout the two communities worked side by side in greater empathy than ever before.