On the 3rd of February 2019, Townsville was struck by a massive flood that left homes ruined, swept away livestock and destroyed businesses.
Thousands of residents evacuated their homes as the region experienced over 1000mm of rain in a week, before being inundated by water released from the Ross River Dam that saw 245 per cent of its normal capacity.
But with the help of emergency services and community minded locals such as broker Ash Evans and his team at AAA+ Financial Solutions, the community pulled together to emerge shaken but still intact.
In this Long Road – Tales of Regional Brokers, we speak to Ash about how his team has supported their community through the disaster.
Hi Ash, thanks for joining us. First, can you tell us about the beginning of the disaster and how it impacted the community.
“The big night was the 3rd of February which was a Sunday, I remember that day because it was my birthday, and it was the same day 8 years ago that we were hit by cyclone Yasi.
The disaster had been building up for a few days. We had very heavy rain, then on the night of the 3rd when the dam reached its breaking point, the council was forced to open the gates.
That flooded about six or seven suburbs, which they say impacted about 5,000 homes.
All this happened on my birthday, the same as Cyclone Yasi, so my mates joke that next February 3 they’re going to banish me from Townsville just to be safe!”
What was the impact of the floods on Townsville and for your clients?
“There’s an enormous amount of disruption up here, with families and businesses affected and many people are finding out their business insurance doesn’t cover floods.
For those who need help, they have had to stay at home for two or three weeks because you’ve got electricians coming to get your power back on, building insurance assessors and builders coming and if you’re not home they’ll just go onto the next house and it can be a month or two before you get them back, so we’ve had a lot of businesses close down as a result.
But it’s not just local businesses in town that have been hit. AAA+ Financial Solutions covers an area of thousands of square kilometres, we do commercial, rural and equipment loans, so a lot of our rural friends and clients out west have had between 90 and 100% of their herd just washed away. It’s terrible.”
How has the community held up in the face of such tragedy?
“It’s a great community. We’ve been through two category 5 cyclones and this major flooding disaster in 8 years, so it’s a resilient community.
We’ve had great help from the council and the army. I have a friend with two little daughters, a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old, and the army rescued them from the flood, moved them to the barracks to spend the night, and even cooked them bacon and egg rolls in the morning, so they’ve been great.
I’ve seen vision of them in high clearance trucks and boats evacuating people in the suburbs where there was shoulder deep water, so they were amazing.”
We’ve heard your business has done a lot to help too. Can you tell us about that?
“From the 5th of February onwards all of the staff at AAA+, we’ve got eight, went out and pitched in to help our friends and colleagues.
We just went around doing three or four houses a day, just going in and helping rip carpets up, move stuff to higher ground, and doing dump runs.
So, we did that for a week before we had to return to work to attend to a range of issues from distressed clients, talking them through the different government grants and hardship measures that many of the banks can offer.
There was also a lot of disruption that wasn’t immediately obvious. Some lenders had to stop settlements until they got a valuer in to reassess damage, so we had those impacts too.
The other thing that we at AAA+ have done is get behind some local fundraising activities. We’ve donated through the Queensland flood appeal, and another one that’s very close to our hearts is Rural Aid’s ‘Buy a Cow’ for our customers and friends out west on the cattle properties.
We’ve put ‘Buy a Cow’ on our website and social media pages, and we’ve had a lot of great support for that initiative, including a sizable donation from a mining group who we connected with through a friend.
It’s been a huge month. It’s been hard work but great to see the community pull together, and our team has been fantastic. I remember from day one my business partner Paul Hautaniemi had just had his house flooded, and he was out with us helping others, which I thought was pretty special. It’s been great to do our bit.”
I understand you have customers a long way out that have been uniquely impacted by the disaster. How have they been?
“I truly believe this disaster, barring deaths, from a damage point of view, will go down as one of the worst in our nation’s history.
Our customers out west have suffered very badly. It’s been estimated that 600,000 head of cattle have perished, and if you multiply that by $1,000 a head, that’s a lot of money.
We feel for our customers out west. Some of them are a 20-hour round-trip away from Townsville, but the road has just reopened so we will try and get out to see them in the next few weeks.
It’s a big investment of time and effort but we are determined to get out to see them soon to help with things like filling out government grant forms or talking about their business plans going forward which might need to change in some cases.”
What are some of the other ways you’ve helped your community through this difficult period?
We’ve been busy doing lots of different things. One example is a childcare centre here in Townsville that had purchased their land, built the building and started the business, before they were flooded.
I was just having my cornflakes one morning reading the paper and I saw there was a new initiative from the government that childcare centres impacted by the disaster can receive $10,000. So, I took a photo of the article and sent it to both the partners in the business, and said if they need a hand applying I’m happy to help.
I followed that up a week later and the business owner and his daughter told me the day after they applied they received $10,000 in their account, so it was great to help them out that way.
And that’s not in the brokers list of duties or roles, it’s just something we did, but it’s something I’m proud we did, and something I’d do again.”
Amongst all this, there was a little thing released called the Royal Commission final report. How did you manage to cope with that at the same time as the natural disaster?
“Yeah that’s right, the Royal Commission Final Report was actually handed down the day after the flood hit, so it was full-on.
We sat down at 4pm on February 4 and listened to the recommendations, and I had a call from a couple of our staff members shortly after that and they were not only quite distraught with what we were facing from the flooding, but also what we heard from the Royal Commission.
It was clear to us that we were facing quite a large structural change within our own businesses and the industry, and what that means for us and our staff, and other contractors that we work with as well. It’s the biggest change in the life of our business, which is 18 years old now.
So yes, February was a busy month. We’ve worked some really long days, starting at 4am and going through until late in the night, but it’s just what we’ve had to do.
We’ve had something in the order of 5,000 homes damaged, many that require $300,000 rebuilds, and then the lost time at work, many people have been dealing with that, which has added to the impact.
But it’s been great to help our community, and we will continue to do that no matter what.”
If you wish to give to a charity raising funds to assist regions affected by the disaster, consider giving a monetary donation online or by phone via Australian Red Cross Society, The Salvation Army 13 SALVOS (13 72 58), St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland (07 3010 1002) or UnitingCare (1800 411 660), or visit www.buyacow.com.au to help the farmers.