Ian Peterson

Ian with his local branch manager Jane Tissington.

There when you need us

Just after midday on 28 March 2017, Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie hit landfall near Airlie Beach, in Queensland’s Whitsundays. The category 4 cyclone brought with it devastating floods causing over $2 billion in damage and contributing to 14 deaths. This was Australia’s deadliest cyclone since Cyclone Tracy flattened Darwin in 1974.

This is a community familiar with cyclones but Debbie was anything but usual. In addition to its winds of up to 263km/h and massive rainfall, Cyclone Debbie was slow moving which amplified its destruction in the region.

Airlie Beach resident Ian Peterson was glad he was prepared because the eye of the cyclone passed straight through his property.

“Once it arrived it just didn’t want to leave. It sat on top of us for hours, zigzagging back and forth,” Ian recounted.

Ian, along with his wife, teenage daughter and several prized animals, spent 27 hours in a shipping container prepared to withstand just such a storm.“It’s important customers know we will be there for them through difficult times.”

Jane Tissington

Once the storm finally subsided, Ian and his family were able to assess the damage.

“It was eerie. It looked like a nuclear bomb had detonated or a bushfire had passed through. There wasn’t a single leaf on any tree,” he said.

Whilst Ian and his family were grateful they had been spared the worst, the property was still hit by over $50,000 of damage.

Within 12 hours reality set in. The sewage system wasn’t working and the family needed a water pump to provide clean drinking water for the animals.

As soon as the roads cleared, Ian headed into town in search of the critical pump. While there was one pump left at the local hardware store, the eftpos system was down and Ian had no cash. Thankfully the store manager promised to hold it if Ian could return in an hour and a half with $1,300.

Westpac customer Ian Peterson.

With all the ATMs in town out of action, Ian was relieved when he saw Jane Tissington, the Westpac Bank Manager at Proserpine, doing what she could to get the bank back online.

“We’d all been through a lot but it was important for people to get access to their money as quickly as possible. Our customers trust us to be there for them in their time of need and we were determined to deliver. We fired up a generator and it didn’t take too long till we were able to get the ATM back online,” said Jane.

The Westpac ATM was the first in town to be up and running and Ian was the first customer.

“I can’t thank the Westpac team enough. They were doing everything to help their customers when they all had their own problems.

“I’ve known Jane for years as she helped us with our home loan and insurance when we first moved here. Not only did she save me with cash for my pump she was a great help with our insurance claim. I had an assessor at the house within two weeks and we now have everything fixed,” Ian said.

“It’s important customers know we will be there for them through difficult times,” said Jane.

A convoy of cars on their way to help after the devastation of Cyclone Tracy, 1974.
On Christmas Eve 1974, Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin, killing 71 people, destroying 80 per cent of houses and causing more than $4 billion of damage in today’s figures. 30,000 people were evacuated, however a group of 12 volunteers from the Bank’s Darwin branch stayed on to get the branch up and running again. Within two days they were able to allow customers to withdraw $200 cash per family for emergency expenses.



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