ROME — Pope Francis sent words of encouragement to Australians in the state of New South Wales, where some areas received two-thirds of their yearly rainfall in less than a week.

“I encourage those who are working to search for those who are missing and bring relief,” Pope Francis said March 24, at the end of his general audience. He said he was close to “the people and families who are affected by this calamity, especially those who have seen their homes destroyed.”

Although the rains that forced more than 18,000 people from their homes had subsided, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said floodwaters would last “for some time.” He described the situation as “dynamic and extremely complex.”

In Australia, the St. Vincent de Paul Society launched an appeal for those hit by the flooding. It suggested donations ranging from 50 Australian dollars (US$38) — to provide food for a family forced from their home — to AU$1,110, which would help families “set up again with bedding, furniture and appliances.”

The Catholic Leader, published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane, reported that St. Agnes Parish in Port Macquarie, part of the Lismore Diocese, provided emergency accommodation for 72 elderly, displaced residents at a retreat center and made more beds available in aged care residential homes for elderly patients of the local hospital. It said a parish youth hub had become a makeshift shelter for locals needing a place to shower, wash clothes or have a cup of tea or coffee.

The New South Wales state government set up a page for people to access information on services and funding for those affected by the storms and flooding.