Monday 24 January 2011

Qld floods - time warp

This post is not about my cards or my cooking or about any other thing that "amuses" me.  It is about my experience during the recent flooding that we experienced here in Qld.  It was a very strange feeling to live through it, and I wanted to capture my thoughts and feelings while they were relatively fresh.  It is quite a long post, and more for my own memory than for anything else.  So forgive my essay!  It is not talking about other people, it is just the immediate effect it had on my life.  I know that others' suffered, and I only experienced minor inconvenience.  My family and I were lucky.

The first thing I noticed, and I don't know if this is what always happens since I haven't lived through a natural disaster before, was that time stopped progressing at the normal rate.  I totally lost track of what day or what date it was.  I couldn't comprehend how my life was running along in its comfortable old rut one day, and suddenly time slowed and stretched and life was different.

On Sunday 9 January (and I had to look up the calendar to get this date to start my story) I was sitting inside my house looking out at the torrential rain pouring down outside.  After months of rain here I was pondering a number of things - how many times were we going to have to drain our swimming pool this Summer?  We'd already drained it twice since the New Year as a result of the heavy rain, and a few times in December.  It had filled overnight again that Sunday morning.  Where was all this water going to go?  The ground was already saturated.  I was thinking about our drainage and our retaining walls which were doing a great impression of waterfalls that day.  I was thinking about the kids being stuck inside almost every day of the Summer holidays and how they were going stir-crazy.  I was looking at the weather forecast for a glimmer of hope that we would see at least one or two fine days before school resumed. I was not particularly thinking that it would flood, although I was considering the irony of the fact that only a very short time ago our dams were down at about 16% and now they were spilling all that water out to sea (I'll remember that the next time we see 7 years of drought).

On the morning of Monday 10 January I was staring out the window at the rain again.  I didn't want to go to work, it didn't feel right.  I did go.  I dressed in sensible shoes and clothes and took my umbrella.  I watched the weather bureau site on the internet.  I saw the news as Toowoomba flooded.  I started feeling very anxious about my friends and family who live out that way.  The rain did not let up.

On Tuesday 11 January I was again staring out the window at the rain.  I REALLY didn't want to go to work.  The weather forecast was for more rain and the water from Toowoomba was headed our way. I went to work.  I called to check on friends and family.  I called my Mum and told her to stay where she was.  I knew she would be flooded in, but she was safe at home, I wasn't certain about the roads.  By lunchtime, the last of my team had left work.  I was the last one there, finishing the most urgent things.  Everyone was either worried about flooding or being unable to get home due to flooding.  At 1.30pm I heard the Brisbane River had breached its banks at Eagle Street.  The rain wasn't letting up.  I got nervous.  I started to head home from work at 2pm.  I think all of Brisbane was at the train station.  The gates were open - they were just letting the hoards walk through without swiping their cards. My train line was no longer stopping at my station, so I had to take a taxi.  We drove along Coronation Drive and I saw the river like I've never seen it before. The River Walk was no longer visible.  Drift restaurant was floating at an angle.  My taxi driver told me he was no longer going to the City - the traffic was chaos as everyone tried to exit the City at once.  I got home safe with my family.

I didn't sleep much on Tuesday night.  I watched the news updates.  I checked the bureau of meteorology (BOM) site.  I checked the Qld Police news releases.

On Wednesday morning I checked the news on the internet, I watched the news on tv, I checked the BOM site.  The Premier of Qld and the Qld Police said to stay out of the City.  The official word from my work was that we were opening.  So I dressed, not in work clothes but in jeans and t-shirt.  My family were not happy that I was not staying home with them.  I drove by our local park to check the water level.  This is what I saw:
The road by the park was already under.

That semi-circle sign in the middle of the lake is the bus stop.

My brain was not really taking it in - how was this possible?

I started feeling anxious.  I took a quick look at the river from further up the hill and saw this:
Where that line of trees is, is where the river bank usually sits. 

This one shows how far the river had already come up.

The anxiety was building.  I decided to fill up with petrol because the orange light was blinking and I had decided to drive to work instead of taking the train.  I wanted to be sure to be able to get home when I wanted, without worrying about cancelled trains.  It took me around an hour to get petrol, the line up was huge.  They had run out of regular unleaded and premium unleaded, I was forced to get super premium at $1.50/L.  At least I had a full tank.  Not everyone managed to fill up that day.  The petrol stations in our area ran out of fuel and didn't have any more for several days. 

I was on my way.  I drove up Moggill Road and going through Indooroopilly  the sight of my girls' swimming school under water brought tears to my eyes.  The water was almost to Moggill Road and I started wondering how I would get home later that morning (since I didn't plan to put in a full day's work that day, just the urgent things).  I didn't get a photo of Indooroopilly, I was driving. 

I couldn't go down Coronation Drive, it was closed.  I took Milton Road instead.  When I came over the hill at Auchenflower, suddenly I was confronted by a lake in the middle of the road:
Milton Road was gone.  People were evacuating urgently.

Looking down Milton Road to the old tennis courts near Torwood Street intersection.

I couldn't get to work.  It is the strangest feeling when you are looking at something like this, and you know it is there, but your brain is working overtime to try to process it.  How can a major road be totally under water like this?  I used to live just at the other end of Torwood Street, and now the whole area was a lake.

I went home.  We went down to look at the park a couple of more times that day. 
This was around 10.30am

You can still see the top of the swings at this stage.

This is about 3.30pm on Wed 12 Jan.  The guy on the surfboard was crazy, there is an electricity substation just there.
At this stage the park equipment was completely under, as was the substation.

Wednesday was strange. The sun came out for the first time in weeks, the water rose. Wivenhoe Dam was releasing half of its normal 100% capacity in a single day to avoid spilling over the top of the dam walls, over 500,000 megalitres of water released in a single day.  The volume of water in the catchment area was beyond my wild imaginings. The day moved in slow motion.  The constant sound of helicopters was our background music.  The helicopters continued for days from first light to last light. We lost power.  We had our battery operated radio to stay updated on flood news.  We had filled our two gas cylinders and pulled out our portable fridge (which works on gas as well as car battery and electricity).  The kids had trouble comprehending how the power could be gone so long - the little one went and turned every switch in the house to the "on" position.  They struggled with no tv, no computer, no lights, no music, no air-conditioning.  We checked on all our friends who were close to the river to see if they needed help.  I think we'd started that on Tuesday, but time is a blur.  I hadn't stocked up on bread or milk this week, so we ran out quickly.  The shops had closed due to public panic buying - there was no stock and people were fighting over what was left.  Wednesday night we ate half the meat from the freezer.

Thursday went in slow motion.  Still no power.  The barbeque became our cooker - the wok burner boiled our water for that all-important coffee.  We went to friends who still had power to charge up our laptop, our phones, and the Nintendo DS, and to have a coffee!  We ate the rest of the meat from the freezer and I threw out the spoiled contents of the fridge and gave it a good clean while it was empty.  The devastation around us was unbelievable. 

The water started going down and leaving mud behind:

The power came back on for us on Friday 14 January.  We were lucky.  There are still people in Brisbane with no power, even now. While the power was back on, we couldn't go far because some roads were still cut, emergency services were all over the place. There was still no food in the shops, no milk, no bread.  Even now, two weeks later, milk, fruit, veges, and some other grocery lines are in short supply. Seeing flood affected roads was heart-wrenching.  Whole houses had gone under water.  The entire contents of these people's lives were sitting by the side of the road in soggy piles amongst the slippery, slimy, stinky mud.  It started to rain again.  I didn't take any photos of this because it felt too intrusive - these poor people had just lost all of their belongings, half their houses, and had no flood insurance and were cleaning off what they could, they didn't need me taking a photo of their misery.  There were enough photos in the news.

Our park afterwards was covered in mud:

Down on the road near the park, someone has painted a line to show the 2011 flood height.

As the flood waters receeded, the volunteers came out in droves.  The generosity and compassion of the people of Brisbane, Queensland, and Australia in response to the floods in Qld has been overwhelming.  They have made me so proud to be Australian.  Some were out cleaning mud of houses, roads, and parks.  Some were baking up a storm to feed those in need.  Some have opened their homes to the newly homeless.  Some have donated what money they can. Some have donated food and goods.  Every person I know has given something in order to make a difference to others.  My friends and family have made me proud. 


Cassandra said...

Great read Michelle. That was exactly how we felt - surreal. Your photos are great too, wish we had done the same. Got some of the creek rising with times (I hope). I really liked the photos of Milton Rd. We could only guess what it looked like (can't believe you were trying to get to work!). On Thursday we took photos on Kenmore Rd looking down the Centenary Motorway - unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

Oh my Michelle! Seeing it in the news is so different to hearing peoples personal account. I'm glad to hear that you and your family are all okay. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone effected.