By Carol Boyce
As I sit to write this, we are halfway through November. The weather is cool, and spring is trying to poke its face through the chill of the morning. By mid afternoon it can feel quite warm and some days humid. Clouds come and go, with people praying the precipitation won’t eventuate this time. And we wait.
In September we walked up Pyramid Hill with some local friends who pointed out the usually dry billabongs and waterways that were easily seen, as they were filling with water from recent rain runoff.
The view was stunning, with the yellow canola crops and paddocks of other grains green and flourishing. The presence of water was a sign of the saturation of the surrounding land after the higher than usual rainfalls this year.
People were beginning to cautiously prepare in case there was more rain, not only directly in the area but in the catchment areas that affected the creeks that flow through the area.
The general feel in the five communities we work across has been that everyone is waiting. This flood has been slower and very different to the flood of 2011.
In Kerang, when the Loddon River was highest, the flow was monitored closely, with helicopters flying over each day. There was strong community action (in all communities) in preparing, distributing and laying sandbags and many were involved in creating levies for houses. Stock has been shifted or agisted on higher ground and the bountiful crops carefully watched as the waters rose or more rain came. And then we waited.
Cohuna too was waiting. The Gunbower waterways filled and made the Gunbower Island inaccessible. The town prepared with sandbagging and monitoring their levy. The Pyramid and Nine Mile creeks were being watched as they would affect the surrounding roads and access.
Swan Hill was waiting for all the water to travel downstream to them. Now at the time of writing they have seen the Murray rise and the flow hasten.
The black water (water with low oxygen levels) along the Murray has seen a significant amount of dead fish and has forced the Murray crayfish to climb the gums to survive. The local environmental groups have collected them to keep them healthy in readiness to be released when the water is safe again.
More rain has made the park along the bank look like a lake and community celebrations for Christmas have been cancelled because of it.
Moulamein in NSW is on the Edward River. The Niemur and Wakool river systems also impact the area. They too are preparing for the waters to come down from the floods further upstream. The rivers are high and the outflows are full. One farm we know of is an island, with the flows around it moving swiftly, requiring a motored ‘tinny’ to cross the water to be able to access roads to town.
The closing of roads as required meant that there has been an eerie sense of isolation, with schools closed and much less traffic in town. A number of businesses and services have been closed because of the location of staff and their inability to gain access while others (including Woolworths) have had shortened hours.
As the waters are receding from roads, the damage is being assessed and, as they dry out and resettle, inter-town activities (including cricket) are able to be resumed. Each day we wait for another road to open. The repair work will continue for months.
Recovery will be something that will come as access is available. Most people are managing one day at a time. Submerged crops and paddocks will be assessed as the water recedes with losses realised in time.
There are multiple issues to overcome and there are many affected. There are some houses affected in the area around Kerang, but far fewer than the flood of 2011.
Again, waiting for waters to recede will take time, but the clean-up will begin as soon as possible. The mosquito population has increased but spraying of still water to prevent breeding is under way. The mosquito deterrent industry will have a booming year.
The unknown weather patterns of the future months continue to affect the stress for the communities, with the fear of recurring floods over the summer a real concern.
Many have expressed their concern for the communities affected beyond them, in areas such as Rochester, knowing that the rebuilding and recovery for these areas will be long, just as it will be for themselves.
We have been getting to towns as much as possible, taking the longer route when necessary. It has been good to meet with people face to face.
Thank you for your prayers and any support you offer to any of the areas affected. We are one body in Christ and this is a strengthening realisation.
Mark and Carol Boyce minister to the five churches of the Mallee Rivers Regional Team (Cohuna, Kerang, Moulamein, Pyramid Hill, and Swan Hill). They moved to the Mallee from Adelaide 18 months ago. These words are from their observations and conversations during this time.
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