Morning tea and rising waters

Morning tea and rising waters

By Benoit Carpentier in Australia

During his FACT training in Australia, Benoit Carpentier visited Red Cross projects launched following floods in Queensland.

This morning was my first visit to the community affected by the massive floods that hit Bundaberg, Queensland on the east coast of Australia in January this year. 

Bundaberg and the surrounding area were badly hit with flood levels rising devastatingly higher than in 2010/2011 floods. Authorities estimated that more than 7500 people were affected and 3000 homes flooded.

I was then slightly anxious, as I knew that people in the community are still recovering from the devastation, still very sensitive and emotional about what has been one of the biggest disasters in recent time in this region of Australia.

Many Queensland residents were dealing with catastrophic flooding for the second time in two years. Impact from these floods comes as many people are still recovering and rebuilding their lives after the destructive floods in the area 2010/2011.

When I arrived to meet Joan and Dennis, nothing could have made me think that merely three months ago their home was inundated by two metres. The bougainvillea trees are full of flowers, the house is beautiful with a nice balcony facing the rising morning sun.

Joan and Dennis are waiting for me on top of the stairs. Instantly my fears disappear. I know from the first words that I will spend a nice time talking to them, trying to understand what they went through and how they are now coping.

“It was a Sunday, I remember,” says Joan as she pours me some tea. “We went to bed as usual, there was a bit of water around but nothing alarming,” she adds.

“I woke up at 2.45am,” says Dennis. “I looked through the window, and there was a caravan, passing in the street, carried away by the water.”

Joan and Dennis spent the night watching the water level rising, helpless. When the water reached more than one metre high, a rescue boat came to help them evacuate.

“Everything went so fast, we didn’t have time to prepare to leave, we were asked to evacuate immediately, we just had the time to take our IDs, medications and some money,” says Joan 

As she continues to tell her story, I can see Joan’s eyes filling with unshed tears, as the memories of being forced to leave her home are still vivid. 

“We were evacuated to Oakwood School. There were thousands of people there, it was very chaotic, but we were very fortunate, we only stayed one night there. Someone we didn’t know offered us to come stay with him until we could get back safely to our house - if ever,” says Joan.

“We didn’t know him, but he offered us a room to stay, a home. People were amazing, helping each other, caring for each other,” Dennis adds.

In the following days, Joan and Dennis’ sons flew from Beijing and Western Australia to help them return to their house as the flood waters receded.

“We are still cleaning, three months later. We have lost many things in the flood but we were lucky, our house is still here,” says Joan.

I could have stayed for hours talking to the resilient couple, but I have to leave unfortunately. Not once in their grueling experience, did they lose hope and despite their misfortunes, they still felt that they were fortunate.  I am smiling because once more, I have been given the opportunity to  meet people who will change my life, just a little bit every time. Indeed, I am fortunate.

Australian Red Cross assisted more than 37, 900 people with personal support and recovery information in 19 recovery centres across Queensland since the floods began in January. The centres have since closed.