We have had an absolutely insane last few days. I’m still absorbing what has happened and is happening, it’s hard to really comprehend the extent and severity of it all. I have photos of all of this, and I’ll share them at some point for now I just need to ‘blah’, and get it all out of my head before I explode.
On Saturday, we had Mayana’s birthday party. I’ll post about that another day, because it really was a great day. It had started raining lightly on Thursday, more heavily on Friday and kept going through Saturday. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but definitely steady. We decided to have Mayana’s party inside the house, but other than that it would go ahead as planned. Family and friends travelled up from the Sunshine Coast, and all made sure to leave before dark as they would be travelling home in the rain. One of Mayana’s friends from Hervey Bay decided to stay over for the night… both his and Mayana’s very first sleepover experience! We haven’t had rain in Maryborough for quite a while now, and it was so dry here, so we were all quite happy with the downpour.
On Saturday night it apparently poured. And there was some crazy wind. Hundreds of mls of rain. We, thank the Lord, now live in a brick house with insulation in the roof and were for the most part oblivious. While there were lots of romantic things about living in a Queenslander, rainy weather was most certainly NOT one of them. Rainy stormy nights in a Queenslander are LOUD and the wind whistles incessantly through all of the cracks and gaps that you didn’t know existed. It wasn’t until the morning, when I flicked over to facebook on my phone, that I read about the rough night all my friends in Queenslanders had had. I read a message from Mayana’s friend’s dad… There is no way through from Hervey Bay to Maryborough. Church is cancelled. Max might be spending another night with you, though we’ll try to get him later in the afternoon. Say whaaaat? A bit of facebook trawling and I find that things in Maryborough have gotten real. We’re talking flooding. Bridges cut off and water rising by the minute.
Now Maryborough is no stranger to floods. There have been reasonably significant floods here in the the last three years. The 2010/2011 floods were pretty substantial, and some parts of our town were cut off fore nearly two weeks before the waters receded. But those floods were the result of weeks of bad weather. There was a lead up to them, and there was a bit of warning. This time, it rained for three days… three. And then bam. Flood. As the day unfolded it became apparent that this was no ordinary flood. This was crazy flood. We were warned that it would definitely exceed the 2010/2011 floods, even as the rain stopped and the sun began to poke out from behind the clouds.
In the afternoon, we ventured out in to town to get a feel for what was going on. We were quite shocked. We’ve never been here for a flood before. Aside from in Kenilworth in my early childhood years, I’ve never lived in a town with a serious flood situation before. It is such a hard thing to comprehend. Your mind struggles to compute familiar roads, parks where you’ve picnicked and played and walked… disappeared beneath the murky depths of brown flood water. River where there shouldn’t be river.
The bottom of my sister’s street had ankle-deep water. The house in the far corner, a high set house but down much lower than the other side of the road, had water nearly to its top steps. Their wheelie bins were bobbing under the roof of their carport. Kids were swimming in the water, and neighbours across the road had set up their camp chairs on their front lawn, settled for a night of watching the waters rise.
The road to the suburb where Peter works was cut in more than one place, including a bridge, and the whole suburb is completely isolated. Pete got a text later in the day saying that work was closed until further notice.
The next morning, one of the roads to Hervey Bay reopened. On the one side the roads were only cut due to flash flooding from the heavy rain, and the road was now clear. After two sleeps at out house, Mayana’s friend could go home. What a memory those two will have of their first sleepover experience! After leaving him safely with his parents, we went to see what was happening. Again we were shocked. The water had risen substantially since the afternoon before. In such a short time. The skies were mostly blue, and yet, before our very eyes, the water was continuing to rise.
In recent years the floods in our town have not affected very many homes, and have definitely not made their way into the CBD. This time, they said, would be worse. People were encouraged to evacuate their homes, and they were setting up huge barricades bolstered by sandbags in the CBD. There were trucks and cars and people everywhere, pulling whatever they could out of shops and stacking what they couldn’t higher. Lining doorways with plastic and sandbags. The water was lapping at the door of our Woolworths, and its entire basement carpark was full of water. This thing was getting real.
We made our way to my sister’s house. The water was nearly at the next door neighbour’s driveway. The water was half way up the street sign, on the same corner where yesterday was ankle-deep water. That house on the corner had water, well and truly into the house. At that point the water was somewhere around 9meters. They were predicting 11meters, but there were mixed reports about when that would happen.. different sources varied between 3-11pm. People were very concerned because aside from the river’s own peak, we also have the problem of water making its way to us from upstream.. Gympie, Kenilworth… places that had also copped a beating and a drenching and were flooded from ex-tropical cyclone Oswald.
My sister and her husband decided they would spend the night at our house. The water would definitely make it to their driveway, but we were confident that it wouldn’t get to their house.
We went to check their house again in the afternoon, and it was much where we were expecting it to be. Into their neighbour’s driveway and on the way to theirs. We were again shocked by how far the water was up in town. Woolworths had a few feet of water in it now. Places where we had walked earlier that afternoon were now underwater. The barricade in town was still holding, but police tape was now stopping you from walking through the threatened streets like you had earlier that day. It was surreal, and scary.
We went home, had dinner, watched TV, listened to the ABC radio. It was starting to get frustrating. Brisbane was under threat and all of a sudden our section of the world had fallen off the map. We weren’t getting any updates on what was going on in our town, and it was hard to find information online. We were hearing that Bundaberg, which was already in a dire state, was expecting a total of 2000 homes to be inundated. They were rescuing people from the rooves of their homes.
At around 8 we heard an update that were were edging towards 10m. The barricades were still holding. More shops were evacuating. We were able to get a lot more information from various groups and organisations on Facebook, but there still wasn’t much concrete information. We went to bed. Pete and I decided to stay awake until 11pm, when they were meant to issue an update on the flood levels on the BOM site. When 11 clicked around, we were annoyed and disappointed to see that their ‘update’ was the information we had already heard on the radio at 8pm.
At around 2.30am Mayana woke us up needing the toilet. Since I was awake I flicked onto facebook. The waters were about 10.5m, and the levies had broken at 10.4m. Someone had taken moonlit photos of the town under water. It was unreal. Surreal. You know that saying, “my blood ran cold”? I totally experienced that in that moment. Flooding is such an abstract thing. You watch it on the TV and you think it’s so awful, it’s so hard to comprehend. I guess when you see your own streets and places that you were walking that very day, under water, it just gets real. We knew that if the water had got to that level in town there were going to be a lot of homes under water. I spent the next hour frantically face-stalking, trying to find as much information as I could, looking for photos. A heap of businesses were inundated. Eventually I managed to get back to sleep again. I felt so guilty that my biggest problem was that I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking of people on their rooves in Bundy. Of people in our own town, staying with friends or in the evacuation centre, wondering what they were going to find at their homes the next day.
In the morning Pete jumped on his bicycle to see what was happening. We all wanted to know what was happening at my sister’s house, and thought it might be safer to check out out by bike in case any roads weren’t passable by car. A reasonable chunk of the CBD was under, and like we thought the water was now up to my sister’s driveway but the house was still high and dry. The water was just under 10.6 at that point I think. It’s amazing what difference a few centimetres of water makes in a flood. Many places we had walked even the afternoon before were well and truly impassable now. That house on the corner of Beth’s street… now the water was just under the top of the windows. A neighbour told us that the family had only moved in three weeks ago.
At that point the river was still rising, and they were still expecting a peak of 11m. This afternoon, after a painful day of the river rising so slowly but surely, they announced that it had peaked at 10.7m. The highest in nearly 60 years. 1955 still holds the record at 11.2m. In the afternoon they started to talk about the waters coming from Gympie. Because our waters were now steady, the pressure was off a little. They’re now saying that with the water coming from upstream, our water level will probably stay steady at around our peak mark for 36-48 hours. Then it will start to recede. If it’s anything like Gympie, this could be a slow process. Clean up might start on Friday, maybe Thursday in some parts of town. Peter can’t work until at least next week, and we’re hoping we can somehow be a part of the clean up.
Today was so strange. It was a beautiful day. Clear blue skies. Temperatures of 34 degrees or more. At our house, the postie came by, and the street cleaner came and scrubbed at the gutters like it does most Tuesday mornings. It was so quiet. We live on the road out to Hervey Bay, and there is usually cars and trucks en masse in the mornings. But today, it was silent. It was so weird. A kilometre or two up the road towards the Bay, a school has water through it. The local tip is compromised. A Maryborough suburb is stranded. Water stands in the way between us and the Bay. In the other direction, Maryborough’s CBD is under water. And yet here we are, safe in our house. We have power, no water or threat of water. Today we drove around and saw houses that nearly had water to their rooves. Even when I’m seeing it with my own eyes, my brain is having trouble comprehending it.
Tonight I’ve seen pictures, on social media and on the news, of Bundaberg. What is happening there makes what is happening here seem almost trivial. Of course it’s not for some people – there are people here who have lost their homes too and for them this is just a nightmare. But we’re hearing numbers like 2000 homes inundated. Pictures of houses floating along main roads. Elderly mean and women and brand new babies being airlifted from the hospital which is no longer a safe place. I don’t know what to say about it. It terrifies me, and I feel so lucky but also kind of guilty that we are safe and the most we have to worry about is missing out on a few days pay because Pete can’t go to work.
This flooding thing. It’s a crazy adventure. One that I hope we don’t have to go through again any time soon. It brings out the best in people in lots of ways, and the Australian Spirit in times like these is something to be proud of. Anyone I talk to, any social media I read, people are already itching to help. Asking what they can do now, what they can do when the water goes down. It’s going to be a big job, this clean up. A big job here, and a bigger job in other places. But we’ll get it done, because we have to. And we know from seeing it happen two short years ago in places like Toowoomba and Grantham, and even right here in Maryborough, that our communities will pull together and come out of it stronger than before.
I hope you and your loved ones have been and remain safe in this wild weather.