On Tuesday 28 March at around 2pm, Cyclone Debbie made landfall in the Airlie Beach region of far north Queensland. Devastating effects were felt across the Sunshine State and New South Wales in the days and weeks following the storm and floods, with the tragic loss of at least 11 people and damage to countless homes and businesses.
As news of the cyclone broke around Australia, our employees and dealerships began to rally, looking for ways t give the hardest hit communities a leg-up. Many dealerships were on the front-line, facing wild weather and widespread flooding that affected their workplaces as well as their homes. One amazing story of resilience comes from Stephen Howlett and David Faiers of Tweed Holden and Quayside Motors in Lismore and Ballina, who worked closely with their teams in providing incredible support to each other and the community.
“The water moved so quickly. It went from two metres to 11.59 metres in a matter of hours, breaching the levy and flooding one of our dealerships to the height of the roof. We lost nine cars all up, but luckily no-one was hurt,” Stephen said.
The teams worked tirelessly through the weekend to clean up, mopping up silt and build-up, clearing the yards and throwing out soiled electronics and furniture. By Monday, the dealerships were operational again thanks to some hard yakka.
Despite the havoc caused by the storm to his business and home-life, Stephen stepped up to lead a support effort that saw vehicles loaned to local community services.
“Clearly the first few days are important – this is when people are trying to find their feet. Getting vehicles on the road to the people and groups that needed them was the most practical thing we could do,” he added.
Meanwhile, members of our Communications, Marketing, Customer Care, Fleet and dealership teams jumped into action after hearing about the logistical challenges that some of the communities up north were facing.
“We knew we could help by loaning cars free of charge to struggling communities, like what we did in South Australia during the bushfires a couple of years ago,” Sean Poppitt, Director of Communications said.
Holden called out on social media channels, offering 18 loan vehicles to people in storm-affected areas. The offer was warmly welcomed, receiving hundreds of direct enquiries and thousands of likes, shares and positive feedback.
Stuart Ellison was one of the grateful loan car recipients. “When the Lismore levy breached we had to evacuate our city shop due to rapidly rising water. After gathering what we could, we left in our two cars as the rain and wind pummelled us. In the chaos, my partner and the kids slammed right up the back of me. We had to abandon both cars, and the SES came to rescue us in a dingy,” he said.
Shortly afterwards, the family watched on TV as their business and cars went underwater.
“We’ve still got lots to do with the clean-up, and don’t have our own cars. Getting the Colorado has been so important.”
Stuart’s business was operational again after three weeks, and he was proud to show off his ute on the streets of Lismore while rebuilding after the storm.
“It’s red with racing stripes, an awesome car. I don’t want to give it back!” he added, grinning.