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What we learnt from the Mackay 2008 flood: Seven years on

12th February 2015

A QUT study of the impact of the 2008 Mackay flood on victims found delays in rebuilding and difficulties dealing with insurance companies had increased post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, over and above the trauma of witnessing the waters inundating their homes and businesses.

Sunday February 15 marks seven years since the deluge of more than 600mm of rain caused flash flooding in Mackay affecting nearly 2000 properties.

Although spared from the flood waters, local resident Kelly Dixon was living on the outskirts of Mackay at the time and was heavily involved in the disaster recovery program through her work at Lifeline.

Ms Dixon is now completing a PhD through QUT's School of Psychology and Counselling, looking at the factors that influence the mental health of survivors following flood disasters in Australia.

"When the flood hit Mackay on February 15, 2008 it was a terrifying experience for many residents, but it was difficulties in the rebuilding process and dealing with insurance companies that increased PTSD, depression and anxiety," Ms Dixon said.

"The flood was a pretty frightening thing on the day but about 75 per cent of people in my study said the most difficult aspect was the aftermath, the clean-up, the rebuilding process and dealing with insurance companies. It was very exhausting for people."

Ms Dixon said the severity of the stress caused to flood victims was impacted significantly by their aftermath experience.

"For example, what we found in Mackay was while there was some coordination of the rebuilding effort, many people faced long delays during the reconstruction phase," she said.

"Whether it was tradespeople over committing to jobs, delays in getting materials or just not enough tradespeople to carry out the work, these delays contributed to the most stressful aspects of the flood.

"Difficulties dealing with insurance companies such as receiving conflicting messages and advice as to whether people were covered, or whether they needed to keep wet and rotting furniture inside the home, also had a negative influence on survivors' psychological outcomes."

Ms Dixon said the study also found social support and social connectedness were vital in the days, months and years following a disaster.

"Feedback from survivors 18 months and three-and-a-half-years later was that the immediate response was well received, but after a while there was a feeling of isolation," she said.

"So it is really important for that social support to continue as long as it is needed, and we saw that those people who did have support were more resilient.

"There are lessons we can learn and I would say have learnt as a result of the Mackay floods.

"For example in the floods of 2011 the community recovery effort benefitted from what we had learnt here in Mackay."

Ms Dixon said there had also been positives to come out of the Mackay floods.

"It is important to recognise that the majority of people were quite resilient and are not suffering any long term ill-effects," Ms Dixon said.

"Additionally, many survivors had in fact grown through their experience, and now reported greater resilience and feeling like they had more personal strength.

"Survivors said they were more confident they could cope with difficult circumstances in the future and they had found the experience had strengthened their relationships and social networks."

Ms Dixon's research was assisted by funding through the Queensland Government's Smart Futures PhD Scholarships Program.

Media contact:
Sandra Hutchinson, QUT Media (Tue, Wed), 07 3138 9449 or media@qut.edu.au
After hours, Rose Trapnell, 0407 585 901

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