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Yam Island homes destroyed as king tide raises calls for better flood protection

By Mark Rigby, Tuesday February 6, 2018 - 18:38 EDT
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Basana and Banasi Gimini try to clean up some of the damage to their Yam Island home. - ABC

Torres Strait residents have described the moment the sea robbed them of their possessions and their homes in the floods caused by last week's king tide.

The 3.8-metre peak calling for a new seawall to prevent future disasters.

Basana and Banasi Gimini lost everything but a few bags of clothes.

"I was sitting watching TV and while I was watching I could hear the banging of the tide against the door," Mr Gimini said.

"It happens every year so I was thinking it was like usual… then water started rushing over the floor and underneath the TV unit."

He moved what he could out of harm's way, hoping that, as in previous years, the water would soon recede.

"But it didn't. It smashed the room, it smashed the wall and our TV, fridge, washing machine, everything got damaged," he said.

As the water continued to rise the couple tried in vain to save their possessions.

"We couldn't go into the house because the sea was just there so we just waited at the front door," Mr Gimini said.

"And as the water was taking the things out we grabbed those things and tried to save them."

With their home in ruins, the Gimini family are now staying with relatives, adding to an already growing problem of overcrowding on Yam Island.

"If it's possible to rebuild down here, and build it higher then we'd like to come back," Mrs Gimini said.

"All our kids grew up here and now we've got grandchildren living with us.

"If it's possible to build a new seawall out there [off the coast] then we'd love to come back."

The surging waves left Ralph Pearson-Bann's house littered with broken coral and sand.

He's concerned by the erosion underneath the existing 1990s seawall that is meant to protect his home.

"The tides have eaten it away so the footings underneath it aren't as good anymore," Mr Pearson-Bann said.

"The seawall's been sinking because of the sand getting pulled away and every time it happens it gets lower and lower."

Mr Pearson-Bann said he wanted to see a breaker or seawall installed off the coast, instead of the beach.

He doesn't believe it would cost as much as the new $25 million seawall on nearby Saibai Island.

"We just need some pre-cast [concrete] or drop some big rocks out there to make a break," he said.

"All we're trying to do is save the land."

'Governments need to do something' Minister says

Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford visited the island yesterday, hearing stories of people fleeing their houses and dodging waves while removing their possessions

"No-one should have to put up with the ocean running through their lounge room and destroying their livelihood," Mr Crawford said.

"I've mostly heard frustration because this is not a new event for the Torres Strait … but a bit of relief that no-one was harmed or died."

He said the Queensland Government had activated disaster relief funding for Yam Island and other parts of the Torres Strait, and said local councils could apply for hardship funding to assist their residents in the short term.

In the longer term, Mr Crawford said he'd like to see seawalls installed on Yam Island.

"We've been listening to the CEO of the Council telling us about the seawalls on Saibai and how effective that was during this same event," he said.

"I think that seawalls are something that the federal government particularly need to be looking harder at up here.

"It's about how to stop and mitigate some of these communities being inundated with seawater.

"Whether people are believers or not in climate change, sea levels are rising and governments need to do something about it."

Cook MP Cynthia Lui, who grew up on Yam Island, said she was not shocked by last week's flooding, but only because she knows similar flooding happens every year.

"This is the reality of living in remote regions and this is one of the realities of living on Yam Island," she said.

"But to see people losing their homes and their belongings, that is quite shocking."

"What happened here last week highlights the issues faced by not only Yam Island, but by other communities in the Torres Strait that are affected by rising sea levels."


© ABC 2018

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