WAITING FOR THE FLOOD
I actually wrote this story yesterday on Sunday 5th June 2016 in an hour and a half. I sat watching the river rage and I wrote. And then we had a power cut and I lost everything I had written. Only a writer will understand my pain. And don’t talk to me about The Cloud and how ‘everything is saved somewhere’ because this has happened before, and I know that it isn’t.
So here I am again, this time on my computer, not the Ipad, this time not watching the river rise, but in our office, with Cino close by.
It started raining on Friday afternoon – it’ now Monday morning and it only stopped two hours ago – we’ve had over 200 mm. Robertson, in the Southern Highlands just an hour away has had 680 mm of rain in 48 hours, and Queensland and northern NSW and Sydney, in fact all of the East Coast and even places like Lismore, have been hammered with rain – and all of that water is heading south, bursting river banks in several places – and there are oceans of it in our river, and more heading our way.
We have lived in this lovely house on the river for five years, and already faced two floods before this one, and survived. The first flood was in April 2013 which Gerald faced alone as I was at Hazel Hawke’s Memorial Service at the Opera House in Sydney. The second was in August last year, 2015.
We know our friends are asking why we live here and why we bought here, after selling our glorious five acres up the mountain in Jaspers Brush, Berry. We wanted a different lifestyle, we wanted to be able to close up and travel, we wanted to be able to walk our dog on the beach every day, we wanted a sea change – well, we certainly got that! We were concerned about sandflies and flooding, so we did our research and made lots of enquiries of ‘old timers’ – and this stretch of river had only flooded once in sixty years. The sandflies appeared to be more of a problem. We stay because we can close up and travel frequently with no problems. We stay because we love the technicolour sunrises and sunsets, the black swans who migrate annually, our friendly neighbours, the ‘stuck in a time warp 1950’s’ village we live in. We have no shops except Nathan, our butcher, Vinnies, a baker, two vets, a doctor, a grog shop and a chemist. No restaurants except the Bowlo, the inevitable Chinese, a small corner café and the fisho. There is a small primary school, a garage and the Surf Club.
But watching the water rise yet again, I wonder whether losing several weeks of our lives every couple of years preparing for and cleaning up after another flood, and the associated angst and stress is worth it. Gerald turns 69 in October and I turn 67 in November. It’s the equivalent, and more, of moving house every couple of years. Do we want to do this again? We were without electricity in the kitchen for almost 6 months after the last flood. It took Gerald months to deal with the insurance alone, and replacing and repairing furniture and furnishings were weeks of work. Clearing the front and back gardens required two huge skips, and two weeks of backbreaking work with the help of friends. The garage and sheds were inundated, and boxes of carefully organised, precisely stacked plastic boxes began to float and eventually tipped over into filthy flood water, and I spent weeks separating precious old documents and family archives, peeling them apart, smoothing them out, and drying them in the sun, but of course we lost a lot. And – the water only entered ONE of the rooms in our house, the lower bathroom. What about all those people who lose everything in a flood? What if that should happen to us?
Gerald and I have been together for fifty two years and have survived several crises, we work well together. And we have some practical experience of floods, so I thought you may be interested in knowing what to do if you should face a flood. Or three.
So, we made lists. Here is Gerald’s:
Flood, June 2016
Possible threats: 8.30 pm Sunday
Sewerage backup – boiled water, bath, buckets
Water inundation – lower floor, shed and garage, driveway – move cars
Electricity off – candles and matches, torches, switch off unimportant power at supply
Radio and batteries
Lower level – move mats and carpets upstairs
Wet weather gear and warm clothes
Here is Sandra’s:
Possible Flood – 5/6/16
Ask for help: Ross, Pascal, Simon, Troy, Penny
Thermoses – boiled water
Fill bath tub with water
Bucket with lid and loo rolls for temporary toilet and plastic sheeting to stand it on
Candles in bottles and matches
Radio and batteries
Cook a chook in crock pot. Make big pot of rice. Prepare esky and food and water for upstairs in case stranded there.
Food and water and bowls, life jacket, leash and harness, towels for Cino.
Lots of towels at doors and upstairs.
Move mats and carpets and lift furniture up off floor on blocks
Clear all lower cupboards of precious goods in lounge, clear low hanging clothes and shoes from our wardrobes, clear lower cupboards in laundry, bathrooms, kitchen, dining room, chests of drawers, linen press, storage under stairs, all office drawers and filing cabinets and move to higher ground.
Interesting that I did not consider warm clothing and Gerald did not consider food. But together we covered most things – and I think we are still functioning well, although we have both been ill in the last few days. Gerald with gastro on Tuesday, the night I arrived home from Jane’s in Queensland, leaving him drained for two days, then he had seven skin cancers cut off his back and neck, covered with sterile bandages, and informed to keep them clean and dry. In the last flood, he had also had skin cancers removed – and their cleanliness amongst all the filthy water concerned me. (Note to self: prepare for flood when Gerald has skin cancers removed). Then on Friday night, I was up most of the night with diarrohea and vomiting and stomach cramps, was ill and slept most of Saturday. Thank God my stomach is not running anymore - oh God, imagine the sewage backing up which is a real possibility and all that shit! So we weren’t in ‘peak condition’ at the start of this crisis.
We advised Joshua our son not to come from Sydney as the roads were flooding and dangerous, and advised Ross and Pascal not to come from Berry and Gerringong for the same reasons. We asked two friends: Troy, an ex British cop who now works in Customs and Simon, a school teacher and someone I mentored years ago in World Youth International, they both live in The Heads, and arrived within the hour, Simon bearing chicken soup sent by Stephanie, his wife. With those two strong young men, the four of us accomplished what took Gerald and I two days to do in the last flood and left us exhausted. They hefted and lifted and carried and weren’t even breathing hard when they left. Blessings on you, fellas.
We ate the soup Steff had sent and finished ticking off all the other things on our lists. The front bedroom upstairs is now a major storage area of orderly chaos, and we made up the bed in the back bedroom with clean sheets and two fat doonas and clean pyjamas, and then had a hot shower. The electricity went off (when I lost my story) and we lit the candles, then it came back on again. God bless those guys working out in this catastrophic weather, thank you.
I am observing our dynamics, all three of us. Cino is anxious, clearly, and wants us in sight at all times, jumping at every unusual sound, she barks at the waves heading in our direction. She is confused that there is hardly anything left downstairs, and the things she loves are upstairs, but when asked, she starts making her bed, pawing it up and balling it just the way she likes it, and settles to sleep. I notice I am doing my “Everybody keep calm/no drama” routine, using my reassuring tone of voice to concerned friends, although I really want to make a big drama and sit down and cry and have a couple of super heroes come and make it all better. I am doing what I always do when I want to love and reassure others and myself, ‘I move fast and bustle’ as Conway once told me - cooking up soup and poaching a chicken in the crock pot and filling the esky, washing dishes and carefully putting them away, so that at least one tiny portion of our home is clean and orderly. Gerald is checking on everything inside and outside, and when complete, starts checking everything inside and outside once again. He is authoritative, issuing directives and determined as always, to protect me. We are short with each other, we have lost our sense of humour, which is no surprise. I had to talk to him yesterday and tell him of my concerns: please do not insist on being a solitary hero in this crisis, please ask for help, please include me in decisions about our house, emergency plans, tomorrow and the next day, I remind him that we are in this together, that this is not his sole responsibility, this is my house and my life too and no, I will not go and stay at Sue and Ross and leave him here to deal with things.
Now it seems almost a relief to just sit and watch, there was nothing more to do, nothing more we could do, but wait for Nature to run her course. I am grateful for FaceBook as I am conserving energy on my phone, and can make regular updates for concerned friends, whose messages of love are pouring in so fast, I cannot deal with them all. We are so loved, this is a grand thing to know. On the phone this morning, feeling ill and like a small child, wanting my Mother, Barbara said to me ‘Your Mum is always with you, you know she is never far away. Perhaps you will find a feather?”
Now the silver rain is slashing down, the wind is howling and peaking at 100 kph according to the radio, but it seems like more to me, the roof shakes and the windows rattle, whining and hissing at the cracks, seeking entry. There are 7 metre waves smashing the beach and there are waves breaking on our front lawn, the volume of water rushing past our front door is alarming. I watch the trees bend and hear things break, the garden is a graveyard of leaves and branches, and debris washing up on the lawn. Our neighbour has water through his ground floor already, and our both our jetties have disappeared under the ocean of river, save for the two large posts and the pontoon barely visible. Darkness is descending and it’s terrifying. We have dinner by candlelight at our picnic table in the lounge, with a good bottle of wine, watching The Voice.
Cino refuses to wee. When will she? We have taken her out in the rain and she stands for a second only before running back on to the verandah. I have placed piles of towels at the front door in case she has to go in the night. Always checking, we battle to open the door and the wind whips the mosquito screen away down its runner and we flash the torch into the advancing waves, now a metre from our deck. There is nothing more we can do, so we head to bed early. Surprisingly, it’s not cold, a warm 17 degrees. Crazy. And as Pauline posted, ‘apparently global warming is a left wing conspiracy’. Right.
Next day Monday:
We were not inundated and survived the night despite the smashing wind and even managed to sleep at times, quite soundly. We woke several times to check on the water and do a wee, the toilets have not backed up and are still flushing. It is not raining and the wind has dropped to a breeze. The electricity is still on. Fortunately, my tummy is behaving. We are grateful for these things! And even a good laugh - Cino, truly desperate to wee, raced to the door, only to retreat back to bed once she realised it was still pouring with rain and had turned very cold, very suddenly. Cino eats her cheese and yogurt breakfast with gusto and so do we – for us, I make ham and potato cakes and boil eggs and chat potatoes for lunch in case we lose electricity again.
And Barbara, you were right. I find a feather, a pink feather, carefully lodged in a bowl in the kitchen. Those of you who knew my mother will know the significance of this in my life, and I allowed myself the luxury of a few tears of gratitude and comfort, knowing she is always with me, as she always promised she would be.
It’s not raining, so we dress warmly and head out to survey the damage, and we can see we have been spared a lot. There is some debris and wreckage on our riverside lawn, but the top section of jetty is visible. Our retaining wall is battered. Out the other side of the house, we see water has inundated Hay Avenue during the night, and come right up to our driveway, but not on our driveway, and has now receded. On either side of us, neighbours have water right down their driveways and in their houses. We are still dry. Gratitude, gratitude. But we cannot walk more than a few metres, as the road is still thigh deep in water in several places, including the entrance to Phil and Julie’s place, they are marooned on all sides, although their house is built high, and is dry. There is a couple who live in a caravan in the farm opposite us, hardy practical people. They were washed out in the night, and are walking down to the public toilet with their little blind 13 year old doggy, Tina, all three uncomplaining and determinedly cheerful. Tina chases her tail and runs to me, smelling the liver treats in my pocket. I feel humbled. I remember last time offering them to come to our place and get warm and have a meal, and they gruffly turned it down - I think they felt diminished by my offer. As we talk to them, two cars drive slowly through the high water, sticky beaking, and I think, “Why do you do that? Why do you ignore the safety rules and put others at risk?” Howard our neighbour joins us, he is in shorts and thongs and a rain jacket, and I chastise him for not dressing warmly. He laughs and says he is going to walk to Phil and Julie’s, but changes his mind when he sees the depth of the water. A young couple walk by carrying green supermarket bags stuffed with clothing, they look like tourists, wading through the water, headed to the higher land of Jerry Bailey Drive. Then a truck drives slowly by, stops and asks if we need help. Good folks. They have been down to Gina at the far end of Hay Avenue, and offered assistance as water has been through her house. Gina too, refused help. We see her a few minutes later, wading through deep water, her skinny brown legs clad in shorts – when she emerges, she places her thongs back on her feet. She has two plastic bags through which I can see toiletries. I ask if we can help, she shakes her head, says she is going to stay with friends, and keeps walking. Everybody dealing with our own stuff, and we each deal with stress differently, and some of us cannot accept help.
Now its lunch time, and the ‘small high tide’ has passed with the water now receding. I can see the top of our jetty and our retaining wall, which has taken a battering and will probably need rebuilding. Our next big challenge is tonight, about 9.30 pm, when it’s a ‘King high tide’.
Monday 12.15 pm
We can see the top of our jetty, and our battered retaining wall. But it’s started to rain again and it’s cold. I’ll keep you posted.