When you travel you learn to go with the flow a little, expect the unexpected. However, during my Australian travels there was nothing more unexpected than being caught up in a natural disaster! Queensland had been getting a lot of rain that season, I had noticed it on my travels, I had clocked the odd news programme and thought “oh, that’s looking bad” but it wasn’t until I found myself in the middle of the Queensland flood evacuations and the stark reality of living next the the Brisbane river that things actually hit home!
This is how it all started…
The Brisbane floods started on a Tuesday, but that was only when it had actually reached the city I was calling home for a few months. The rains in wider Queensland had been coming for a long time and the devastating impacts of the flooding had arrived in the town of Toowoomba the previous day when a wall of water swept through the town without warning. The 8 metre wave destroyed most of the town killing many of those in it’s path. I was unaware of this event until Tuesday morning when I received an email from our landlady trying to give us reassurance that she thought we would be safe but precautions to take if we were cut off.
Upon reading this, the TV was on instantly and I was faced with the devastation caused in Toowoomba and the frightening developments across South East Queensland. The flooding that had always been in the background, that was always on the news was now on our doorstep. Not much later, as I sit glued to the screen as it announced that the neighbouring area of Ipswich and then Brisbane were next in the firing range of the massive tidal wave of water. The messages between our flat mate group were getting more regular as we kept each other updated on where we were. As the only one in our house that morning I was slightly relieved as slowly my flat mates arrives back having been sent home from their places of study and of work. All staff and students at the local university had been told to leave for fear the campus would be flooded.
By mid-afternoon everything had gotten very real. The death toll sits from the flooding now sat 10 but with the missing around the 100 mark. Ipswich is being evacuated suburb by suburb as water rose in the city and as we look outside, the weather is torrential rain making the situation worse.
Having not really left my spot in front of the television set all morning, I tried to fill my flatmates in on the situation only for the news show playing in front of us to announce the evacuation of suburbs the length of the Brisbane river and low lying outskirts. Starting as warnings to seek higher ground but barely 15 minutes later Caboolture, a suburb at the end of our train line, is told not to collect any personal items but evacuated their home immediately. Move to higher ground, that there lives are in grave danger. This does not do much to calm the situation in our flat with one flatmate already in a panic. I try my best to keep her calm but to be honest I have no idea what to say or how to reassure her based on what I’m seeing on the TV. At this point, so much later than we should have been, we all start to consider – should be packing a bag to leave?
Our landlord, had told on the email that we would be ok and it was unlikely the water would reach us but to be ready to leave if the worst happens. We continued watching the updates as flooding continued in Ipswich and started in Brisbane. The rain continues to pound down outside. Over the next few hours we watched as our neighbouring suburbs are listed on the severe flood warning list and then our own, Auchenflower is added. It’s not long before the lists change form warnings to voluntary evacuation.
Our landlord checks in with us wanting to check everyone in our flat share is accounted for and once everyone is back we head out to have a look at our situation and are shocked at what we see.
Myself and a fellow flatmate take a few photos of an already flooded Milton -a neighbouring suburb two or three streets away. The water in Milton is at waist height by this point and the flooding which is mainly from the torrential rain cuts off several routes into the city centre.
A couple of walk about take place at various stages of the evening to check on the rising water and to break up the frightening rolling news programmes. Everything seemed so surreal and, looking back, we were so naive of the danger we were really in. For me it sunk in a bit more while out on one of our expeditions in the rain where I manage to injury myself on something under the waters surface. Now with a chunk out my knee I had to be extra careful around the mucky water.
Over the course of the night we tied filled bottles with drinking water – preparing encase our water is cut off due to contaminated systems and we did out best to find candles and torches for the expected electricity cut. It arrived at 10 pm. No more television news updates on the flood, on more online council warnings site – no more information. We were on our own.
With the loss of light we all packed a bag ready to evacuate during the night but all hoped that it won’t come to that.