Who’ll stop the rain

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The news has been overwhelmed for the last week or so with ‘Hurricane Sandy‘. This storm hit the east coast of America and tore its way through, tearing through many people’s lives in the meantime. There is much footage of those now trying to recover in its aftermath. Years ago, I used to watch things like this and feel really sorry for the people in those videos. But now, I feel I can empathize with them on a deeper level. I feel that I, on some small level, understand what they have been through and the struggles they will face in the months ahead.

In January 2011, Queensland, where I live, was hit with a ridiculous amount of storms and rain, and even (further north from where I am), a tropical cyclone. And Brisbane, the city where I live, flooded. Badly. A lot of people had to evacuate there houses, and a lot of the evacuees homes flooded. Rhys and I were in this group.

I still remember it clearly. It was a Tuesday. I had a late shift, and was feeling a bit down – the night before, my mum had called and told me my Pop was really sick, in the way parents tell you when its time to go and say goodbye. Work was full on, and I couldn’t get over there until Friday. I was sleeping in, when I heard a knock at the door. I went downstairs to find a friend of mine, who lived just up the road, worried. Toowoomba had flooded in a freak flood the afternoon before, and the water was coming to us. I looked out the back door to the paddock behind our house. It was lower than us, and already about a meter under water. I called Rhys and told him I thought we might have to leave. He did a bit of fact checking at his own end, told me he was coming to get me, and to pack up.

I dressed quickly, then went around the house, throwing stuff into a basket. I packed torches, matches, band aids, phone chargers, water, underwear, a high vis vest, weetbix, canned food, and long life milk. I moved everything I could up on top of tall furniture, more as a precaution then anything else. I grabbed my iPad, my phone, my wallet, and went outside as Rhys pulled up. He grabbed another outfit. We stopped by my friends to help, to find her loading the dishwasher as he husband packed. I felt bad. My sink was full of dirty dishes.

We went to Rhys’ office. We were going to hang out there until we knew what was happening. But then news reports of road closures started coming in, and we knew we’d end up as stranded as if we’d stayed at home. We left for my parents, who live up on a mountain. I called work and told them I wasn’t coming in – no way I was getting stuck there after all the hassle of the day so far. There was rolling coverage of the floods, all day, every day, for about a week, but it held no real new information. I was constantly on the BOM website, watching the roads around our house join the list of closures. There was nothing to do but wait.

The next morning, early, Rhys woke me. The water had receded slightly, and a road near our house was uncovered. The flood wasn’t expected to surge until that afternoon. We could potentially go and save some things. We hopped in the car. The usually 45 minute drive to almost 4 hours- so many roads were closed. We finally got to our house. Power and water were out, but it was still dry. But, when we went out the back, the garden was half under. I felt a niggle in the pit of my stomach. We got into the house. Rhys grabbed his most important computer. I grabbed our birth certificates, our passports, our wedding photos, and some irreplaceable trinkets I had, as well as clothes. With the help of some friends, we moved some things upstairs, but as downstairs was our kitchen, laundry, garage and lounge/dining, most was too big to move. Our friends left. Some amazingly good hearted trades showed up with a ute full of sand and bags, and we sandbagged the doors. I dropped a bag on the toilet as an after thought. Police had started evacuating people, and there were helicopters circling overhead. We left as fast as we could, unable to take main roads any more. We crossed the bridge to the side of town were we were staying less than half an hour before it was covered. I spent the night trying to work out if our house would go under.

Very early Thursday, we got a text from a friend of a friend. He’d been down our street on a boat, and taken a picture of our house ( above). It was small and extremely blurry, but it confirmed that the first floor of our house was, indeed, under water. Funnily, I felt lighter than I had in days. I knew what we would be dealing with. There was no more unknown. I went back to sleep, and when I woke felt chirpier than I had in days. Knowledge is power, my friends. I now think, instead of the endless repeats of a floating restaurant slamming into a bridge, they should have just aired a loop of photos of effected houses.

I visited my Pop sometime that day. I was glad I knew what had happened, as I could focus on Pop. I was so glad to see him.

The next morning, the water had receded to the point where we could return home. Though the traffic was bad, it was eerily quiet as we approached our suburb. power was put, and junk was strewn everywhere. everything, even the trees, were coated in rancid grey mud that smelt like everything bad in the world at once. The whole thing was like a sepia photo of a war zone.

Our lovely property manager and some volunteers had been there for hours by the time we got there. Our downstairs had been flooded 1.5 m and almost everything ruined. The house had been full of THE mud. But they had swept it out for us. The dirty dishes I’d been ashamed of leaving behind had provided enough pressure to stop sewerage coming up our kitchen pipes, a definite positive. Without thinking, I sat on our couch, and brown water flowed from it. Our freezer smelt like a thousand fish had died in it. Our fridge inexplicably was full of what looked like sultanas. Almost everything we owned went on the curb. We chucked it all. I felt strangely detached. I didn’t care.

When we got home that night, my Pop had passed. I didn’t think again about our house for the next few days. I was strangely grateful for the floods. If I’d had to work, I wouldn’t have made it out before he died.

I tried to go back to work the next Monday. I thought I was ok. A co-worker made flippant, but not malicious, comment about my situation and I found myself hiding in the walk in fridge for 20 minutes, crying quietly until I was found by a guy from another department, who upon hearing why I was crying, told me to go home. I took his advice.

Then came the after. Two days after my beloved Pop’s funeral, I found out I was pregnant. I spent almost the first trimester of my pregnancy living upstairs in a house that stank of mud. That, plus no fridge, plus the smell of paint and building, coupled with the fact all our food prep happened on an ironing board for two months, and we had no chairs, made the already notoriously difficult first trimester even more of a struggle. And for months, when it rained, I felt the need to check there wasn’t pooling in the back yard.

But with the bitter, comes the sweet. Yes we lost a lot. And the insurance said the water came from the wrong kind of flood for us to be covered. But we had only been married for three years, so we didn’t have so much to lose. And so many people offered to help. Family dropped money into our account. People offered to pay our bills, and set up tabs for us in places. A lot of it I felt too guilty to take. People down the road for us were a lot worse off then us, and I didn’t feel right about it. But the fact that people wanted to help us meant so much. Even though it was a difficult time, I don’t know that I’d change the circumstances.

I know that there are a lot of people in the US and the Caribbean right now who are so much worse off than what Rhys and I experienced. I know this will be the worst thing that ever happens for a great deal of the, But I hope that everyone that is affected over there at least gets to experience a little of the goodness that we did.

If you happened to be looking for some way to help those hit by Hurricane Sandy, you can donate here.

I’m An, the wife of a wonderful, but extremely nerdy gamer, a mother to two, a scientist, an amateur pastry chef, a daughter, a sister and a friend.

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