Inside an unassuming hall in Jimboomba, north-west of Queensland’s Gold Coast, Sarah Weir is offering a reprieve from the heat, cool drinks and food, wifi, and even her shoulder to cry on.
“There’s been some tears,” she says.
“But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else during a disaster.”
The town is one of several in south-east Queensland that was battered by storms and flash flooding over Christmas and Boxing Day. Seven people died, hundreds of homes were damaged and power outages affected thousands more. Now, residents are sweltering through a heatwave, many without the comfort of fans or air conditioning due to the lack of electricity.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology, more storms are forecast to hit the region on Saturday, with the possibility of destructive winds, large hail and heavy rain which may lead to flash flooding from the late morning.
As of Friday afternoon, 27,400 properties across the south-east were yet to have their power restored, including almost 2,000 in Jimboomba, where temperatures soared to 38C.
When Weir learned the Jimboomba Community and District Hall had power, she asked the local Rotary club if she could transform it into a makeshift shelter for those without. Since then, hundreds have been through its doors.
“Some people are just popping into grab some food and water and a bit of reprieve from the heat, others are staying most of the day,” she says.
Weir says the majority of people who have visited the hall have been older residents escaping the heat as well as some families with small children, whose homes have been significantly damaged by the storm.
Others have taken advantage of the hall’s wifi to make contact with friends and family abroad during the festive season.
“People have got family interstate or overseas they haven’t been able to contact to let them know they’re OK,” Weir says.
Queensland’s minister for disaster recovery, Nikki Boyd, visited Jimboomba on Friday and said it was one of the “hardest hit” by the “ferocious” storms.
“We’ve got field crews who are working right now across the clock to restore power as soon as possible,” she said.
Boyd said she was confident 90% of properties in the area would have electricity restored by New Year’s Eve but the remaining 10% of properties – predominantly in Jimboomba and Tamborine Mountain – could have a longer wait.
“Network restoration there will take some time. Energex aims to have power restored to all customers in these communities … by tomorrow [Saturday] night,” she said.
‘Shocked at the extent of the damage’
Joshua Kerswill from Energex described the storm as unprecedented for the region.
“The scale that we’re dealing with here in the south-east to me is probably equivalent to twice what Cyclone Yasi put out,” he said of the 2011 disaster that left 150,000 homes without electricity.
“It’s widespread, it’s covered a large populated area. Everyone working here is quite shocked at the extent of the damage.”
Logan city councillor Scott Bannan said he expected the clean-up would take months and urged residents not to overexert themselves in the heat.
“The clean-up can wait,” he said.
“Especially the older guys, I’m really worried about them overdoing it with the clean-up when it’s so hot outside and there’s no reprieve inside.”
He said the community had worked together to clear fallen trees and other debris from driveways to ensure people were able to leave their properties, and were now working to clear the main roads.
“The community is terrific. For some people who have just moved into the area, it has come as a bit of a shock but for those of us who have been here for a while – it’s just a matter of getting shit done,” he said.
“Whether its fires or floods – neighbours here roll up their sleeves, they help each other, share machines. You really do see the best in people.”
Bannon said he had organised a barbecue for Friday afternoon as a thank you to the community. With some help from Weir, temporary washing machines and showers were set up and 500 sausages, 200 steaks and “a little bit of salad” were distributed.
“I’ve been feeling a bit useless because I broke my leg, I’ve been hopping around on crutches trying to help but not really [been able to] so I organised a barbecue. It’ll be a big feed and an hour off for a bit of a breather,” he said.
Woodhill rural fire station was also allowing members of the public to use their bathrooms, while Bannan said people with power had opened up their homes for people to shower, store medication and charge phones.
Boyd urged locals to pay attention to warnings as more wild weather approaches.
“We’re not too sure exactly what the storms will bring at us,” she said.
“But one thing I know for sure is we’ve got the best response.”