Saturday, January 15, 2011

Queensland floods – A first-hand account of the clean-up

Like so many this week I’ve found the continuous streaming of flood updates and video footage on our TV stations absolutely compelling viewing. The aerial shots of roofs of houses punctuating a sea of brown water stretching on forever are numbing, almost overwhelming in their impact.

imageAAP photo

In Queensland alone the flooding has affected an area the size of France and Germany combined, and other states of Australia are experiencing devastating floods as well.

16 people are confirmed dead in the wake of this week’s floodwater that swept from Toowoomba to Brisbane, with dozens more unaccounted for.

And now the hardest job begins – cleaning up after that stinking, muddy inundation has coated everything with its filth and slime.

This morning my friend Susan, who lives in Brisbane, wrote a very honest and moving account of just what it’s like to roll your sleeves up and begin to help salvage people’s lives.

She’s graciously given me permission to share it with you.

Each time I think about trying to put my thoughts into words the tears well up.  I have seen such a miniscule portion of the devastation this flood has wrought and I struggle to comprehend even that much.

I feel incredibly blessed to be basically unscathed.  We have lost nothing, except a little sleep; we have food in the fridge and pantry; we have electricity to run the fridge and the radio and the internet; we have water - all of it clean and mud free.  I also feel guilty because I have all those things and so many, including people I know, have lost everything.  I feel guilty because, quite frankly, I hate getting dirty and I don't want to help clean up, but I know I have to.  Not because someone says I have to, not even because it's the right thing to do, but because it's the only thing to do.

Thankfully, today, I found a way, a meaningful way, to help without getting too ikky.  A friend of ours was caught by floods while visiting his kids up north.  He lives in a caravan park not far from us, at the bottom of the hill. If you saw footage of a caravan park in Goodna on TV - that was, was, his home.  It is now a junk yard of, well, junk.  Junk covered in flood mud.

If you've never experienced flood mud, let me see if I can describe it, which I doubt.  It's exceptionally fine. It's incredibly slippery under foot. I almost went over a couple of times.  Places you expect to have traction, like grass, don't have any, 'cause they're coated with this stuff.   It's in and on everything.  I've washed it off the backs of photos, which were in an album, in a case, in a cupboard. But the worst thing? It stinks.  If you've ever walked through mangroves, with bad water circulation, it's that sort of rotten vegetation, rotten flesh, rotten water smell.  The smell permeates everything.  I'm pretty sure when you finally manage to wash all the mud off, the smell stay behind.  Just horrid.

So, back to our friend's former caravan.  Daniel went down to see what he could salvage.  Several other friends turned up and lent a hand.  A couple of hours later I went down to pick up what they'd found. A bucket of clothes, a couple of tubs of mainly photos. A really, precious little else.  Another friend took the hard drive from his computer so see if he could salvage that.

The clothes went in the washing machine.  That was pretty easy.  The Girl and I then put all the rest of the stuff in the bathtub.  I read somewhere that you can save wet books by freezing them in plastic bags. I don't know if it works, but heck, what do we have to lose?  The bottom 1/4 of my freezer is now full of books.  I can always say I ran out of bookshelves :-)

The photos are pretty easy.  I read that the trick is to keep them wet until they're clean, hence the bathtub.  The Girl and I both found that our backs didn't appreciate the tub though, and we quickly moved to the kitchen sink.

Paper is a little tricky. Requires a delicate touch, but I managed to save numerous mementos – kids’ report cards, his own report cards, programmes from band performances he was involved in.  In the light of eternity, probably not the most important things in the world, but when it's all you've got, I'm hoping it helps.  Just about every floor in the house is covered with doona covers and towels, in turn covered with photos and papers.  I have another bucket of photo albums in a tub waiting for tomorrow, when we will have room and hopefully new spines.

All afternoon I have been thinking of an episode of MASH, Morale Victory.  Charles is quite pleased with himself for saving a chap's leg against the odds.  When the man wakes up he is far more concerned about his hand, because he is a concert pianist.  As a lover of classical music Charles is particularly devastated that he made the wrong choice, although, how was he to know?  As I've made the decision this afternoon to carefully salvage certain bits of paper and discard other bits I wonder if I'm saving the right things.  I just don't know what's important.

I do know that I'm knackered. I still smell of off mangroves; my hands are more water logged than a fish; and spine feels like someone walked on it. My plan is to have a shower, maybe have a bit of a cry and then tomorrow morning I will get up and do it all over again.  Not because I have to; not because I particularly want to; but because how can I not do it?


If you’d like to donate directly to the Premier’s Disaster Relief Appeal you’ll find all the details in that link.

The crafting community is getting behind the recovery effort too. If you’d like to help by having an auction of a craft-related item or two on your blog, or simply bidding on others quilters’ auctions, go to Toni’s Sew it Perfect blog or click on the button with the pink brolly in the top right corner of my blog for details.


  1. Di, quite simply, this makes me weep. Words cannot express the depth of feeling I have for those Australians who are experiencing the worst of this flooding. My prayers continue. Bless you for sharing this with those of us who are unaffected. Bless all of Australia too.

  2. Well done Di; you have touched so many hearts with this blog. We, here in Australia, are so numb by what has happened, and I can only imagine how devistated these poor folk must be who have been affected by these floods. We can't really say much because it is so dreadful, but you have mastered this so beautifully and helped bring the situation home to all your followers. I hope and pray that each and every one of us can do something to help these people - no matter how big or how small, it all adds up and WE CAN do something to help. (the otehr) Di


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