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UPDATED: 4 real-life stories from the Queensland floods.

There is only one story consuming us all. Everything else seems trivial in comparison to the floods in Queensland and the devastation on so many lives, properties, animals and families.

We have asked four of our treasured Mamamia contributors in Brisbane – Rick Morton, Bec Sparrow and Kate Hunter –  to write us first-hand accounts of what they’re seeing and feeling. Because behind the big numbers we’re seeing in media reports, it’s crucial that we remember these are individual people. Hundreds of thousands of them who are being affected.

Their writing is beautiful and moving and brings home the reality of what so many people are feeling and facing.

I keep looking around my house and thinking ‘what does that actually mean’? What does it mean to have a river gush through your house and take away everything you own and ruin anything it leaves behind.? What does it mean to be told to evacuate? What do you take? How do you decide? How hard is it to walk out that door? And what about pets? So many reports of people being unable to take their pets to shelters or unable to rescue them. What do you do then?

Special mention must go out to Queensland Premiere Anna Bligh who is doing the most EXTRAORDINARY job under the most extraordinary pressure. What a class act.

Our prayers and love and support goes out to everyone affected.

Important numbers and links if you need assistance:
In an emergency call the SES on 132 500

Relatives and friends seeking information about people in flood affected areas should call the Policelink Flood Information Hotline on 1300 993 191 International calls: +61 7 3055 6220

Current weather warnings: http://www.bom.gov.au/qld/warnings/
Road closures: http://www.racq.com.au/travel/Maps_and_Directions/road_conditions
The Queensland Police are posting reliable updates via their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

9:00AM Wednesday : Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh confirmed that 10 people are now dead, including five children and the number of people missing has been revised to 90. The seriousness of this disaster is still unfolding and the Premier has said the flood levels will exceed the 1974 levels.

‘We are facing one of our toughest ever tests; now is not a time for panic, now is a time to stick together,’ said the Premier. “Now is the time to be reaching out to friends and offering help and where necessary, a bed for the night over the coming 2-3 days.”

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7:00PM Friday: The death toll stands at 16.

51 people missing are still missing.

Footage from the THURSDAY 11:30AM press conference:

Eagle Street Pier in Brisbane

Mamamia contributor, Rick Morton is in Brisbane, he writes:

Rick Morton

“It’s a curious fact of an unprecedented natural disaster that you learn to do things previously not thought necessary: like sandbagging the toilet, for instance.

Did you know, and I’m sure you’ll be keen to find out, that you have to release the water from the cistern, flush away whatever water you can and then plonk a giant sandbag lined with plastic into the bowl. That’s not a terrible euphemism, as it turns out.

Before I explain, a disclaimer. This is not a woe is me piece. Save the sympathy and the condolences for those who have lost everything, including loved ones. They’re counting the death toll at ten as I write this, not including those who died in the floods which can only now be described as ‘pre-Toowoomba’. In total, at least 22 people have lost their lives. That figure may skyrocket. So no, this is not a piece designed to garner your hopes and well wishes as I am perfectly fine. This is simply a microcosm of the Brisbane experience. My experience, as it turns out.

The river was rising about as fast as pessimism at an Aussie cricket match in the morning. As I type this, we’re expecting a first peak in the dead of night. You can hear the river grind past my window but you cannot see it right now. Occasionally you hear the thunk of mooring pontoons, swept clean and down the river. I counted 9 sail right past the window before the sun set. And I was barely looking.

It took a while for the news to sink in as what appeared to be another day, albeit an exceedingly wet one, set in. Buses took workers to the CBD and buildings filled up with the pre-9am coffee lot. It was the highly caffeinated calm before the storm. And the news grew worse.

You’ve watched it all on a constant loop now, so I won’t bore you with too many of the details. But just a little context helps.

Brisbane river

Brisbane has not flooded dramatically since 1974. The Brisbane River is rather wide and cuts it neatly in half as it winds and s-bends on its way to Moreton Bay. When it burst its banks in 1974 – and that was a phenomenal disaster – it did so because three things happened. A cyclone pummelled the coast and generated awesome rainfall, king tides coincided with the rainfall and there was absolutely no Wivenhoe Dam to hold back all that water from the west.

Fast forward to 2011 and you can, in a matter of hours more or less, take Wivenhoe Dam out of the equation. It was built after 1974 to stop another flood of that magnitude. And, ironically, it has. But this is bigger. This flood is big enough to not only fill the dam to 100% capacity (drinking water) but to 180% capacity (the extra is flood mitigation) so far, with breaking point at 225%. The cruelty of this is that whether Wivenhoe reaches 225% tomorrow or not is irrelevant. It is a flood mitigation dam and authorities have no choice but to release water as we go along, sending thousands of megalitres into the Brisbane River. If we wait until it’s full at 225% then we have nothing left.

There would be no stop-gap, at that point, between all that water and us. None at all.

sign of the times

So here we are. The realisation dawning that the event we thought couldn’t happen, is. Our stoic and graceful under pressure Premier has confirmed it. The River, at present predictions, will rise to 4.5m this afternoon (Wednesday) and then continue rising into Thursday where it will likely surpass the 1974 mark of 5.45m.

As our worst fears were confirmed, the CBD took flight. If you’ve ever watched a disaster movie when all townsfolk flee, this was it. The roads were gridlocked in every direction for two hours and then, nothing. You could hear a tumbleweed flutter past if it weren’t for the pelting rain.

Bread disappeared from supermarket shelves and businesses in the CBD began sandbagging. It took me three hours to get home, waiting for the mad rush to subside and eventually walking through a nearly deserted centre of town before catching an empty bus home. And do you think I could find a bottleshop open to sell me wine? The third largest city in Australia was a ghost town, utterly bereft of life. The CBD floods. It did in 1974 and it will again.

1974 flood mark

My apartment is right on the river. I live on the third floor but my friend lives on the ground floor. A marker on the inside wooden pole shows the 1974 flood at head high which means the water will wash right on through every ground floor apartment. A sign at the entrance reads ‘Prepare for possible flooding’ with the ‘possible’ scrawled out, a testament to how fast the news is changing around here.

We shuffled sand into sandbags in pelting rain as every unit dweller on the first floor ferried belongings to higher ground. We became a community for the first time ever. My flatmate handled the shovel at the sandery (that sounds like the name that should be given to a place that has sand in it) and we borrowed the wheelbarrow of others to ferry it back to the unit block, the tyre buckling under all that weight.

And I learned how to sandbag a house, which was something, I suppose. The trick is plugging up all the sinks, showers and toilets to stop sewerage backing up and into the apartments. Then you wait for the water and hope they decide to cancel unit inspections for at least a week.

Sandbagging

It’s 10pm and I’ve been outside for a smoke (stress, yes) and people are still moving furniture and looking worriedly into the apartments. Mine has become somewhat of a refugee haven but even we will have to move as it is likely our power will be cut by the time you read this and I am running out of food. I do not fancy a trip to the supermarket anymore than I fancy gnawing through my right shoulder. It may prove necessary and, if it is, I will trick out my trolley Mad Max style with spikes and chassis armour to make it through the mayhem. That’s if I find a supermarket that is open. They’re cutting power to the CBD tomorrow morning too.

I spent the rest of the afternoon watching the yachts head out to the Bay and police boats tow pontoons to safety; those pontoons that hadn’t already been washed away.

There isn’t much to do now. At some point tomorrow I will update you all, but access to a computer and power may prove difficult.

Some 75% of this great state is now a disaster zone. Brisbane will face its hour of need on Thursday as the River smashes through levels we didn’t think would be possible again.

I really am finding it difficult to put into words what I have seen already today; that Mother Nature (the silly git) can do this to a first world city. She has bared her teeth at Queensland and the gnashing which struck Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley will be indelibly stamped on all our minds forever more.

This is one of those days that people will not forget.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the big one.”

Kate Hunter, also in Brisbane writes….

Kate Hunter

’74. As bad as ’74. That’s what they’re saying about the flood swallowing my city now. I was seven back then, and although we lived in Brisbane, we were away at the time. But I remember coming back and seeing slime halfway up the walls of houses and piles of sodden mattresses on the footpaths. I remember thinking, ‘what a mess’.

The mess is back. And it’s not just in Brisbane. It covers two thirds of the state. And the mess is the least of it. People have died, children are lost and towns have been wiped out. And it’s a long way from being over. But there is good news, and it’s how people are dealing the disaster. Specifically:

Anna Bligh. I don’t like to comment on politics (mainly because I have no idea about it) and I’m not now. I just think that the Premier of Queensland is showing courage, leadership and compassion. Her composure is astounding, but there’s something in her voice and manner that tells you tears are just below the surface.

The creek at the back of Kate's garden

Campbell Newman. The Lord Mayor of Brisbane (unlike other capital cities, Brisbane is administered by one massive council), Newman gave himself the extremely naff nickname of ‘Can-Do’ Campbell. He was a civil engineer and a soldier before he was a politician, and that’s how he’s acted this week. When Cr Newman talks about Wivenhoe Dam and the Brisbane water grid you absolutely believe he understands it. Which is good because hardly anyone else does. He seems to know what to do and he’s doing it.

Emergency services workers. ‘Look at them!’ I said to my son as we watched a rescuer pull a boy from the torrent that was the main street of Toowoomba, ‘Forget about footy players, those guys are heroes.’

I was worried about my husband getting the bus home from work yesterday. I can only imagine what the people who love the police, fireys, ambos, SES workers and military personnel are going through.

The media. I sometimes giggle about how much journalists love putting on a raincoat and reporting from a flooded causeway, but I reckon they’re doing a fantastic job. The coverage I’ve seen has been sensitive, informative and sober.

Kate's 9 year old son lending a hand

And people generally. Although our place backs onto a creek, we’re fine so far, but all day there have been texts and calls and tweets asking if we’re okay. And offering to help if we aren’t. Three families have called to say they’re away and to offer us their homes. The really generous ones have offered to put us up while they are there too.

The twitter-stream was an amazing place yesterday. It buzzed with advice and information. Rumours were quickly quashed. Those who needed help and people who offered it were put in touch. There was care and concern and reassurance in spades. Similarly on Facebook; last night the Queensland Police page is swamped (sorry) with posts from people asking where they can help with sandbagging.

There are people who will say, ‘That’s the Queensland way,’ or ‘Australians pull together at times like this.’ But I really and truly don’t think it’s about being a Queenslander or an Australian. It’s about being a person – a friend and a neighbour.

I hope in thirty-five years, when my kids talk of the flood of 2011, it won’t be the mess they remember, but the kindness.

To see where volunteers are needed, visit the Queensland Police Service Facebook Page http://www.facebook.com/QueenslandPolice

To donate to The Premiers Flood Relief Fund Visit http://www.qld.gov.au/floods/donate.html Or at major banks.”

Rebecca Sparrow in Brisbane, writes:

Rebecca Sparrow

“I spent yesterday making lists. Well it was the same list. I just kept changing it.  I’ll take the laptops because my novels are on there, as well as all our digital family photos. Then everybody’s birth certificates. The photo frame with my favourite Polaroid snap from our wedding. The book with the handwritten family recipes.  Ava’s bottle.  The Snoopy brooch my nanna gave me.

Loved ones and pets aside, this is my final list. Until, well, it isn’t.  What about my handwritten diaries from when I was a teenager? Then there’s Ava’s baby album. Georgie’s handprints.

Let me stress right now that I am by no means in danger. My house is not near the Brisbane River. At the time of writing this piece my street is not on the warning list for potential flooding. Well not yet anyway. But you know what? I’m nervous. For the first time in my life, I’m actually in the place that’s being shown on the TV news at night.  And all around me Mother Nature (who appears to have the personality of Naomi Campbell sans mood stabilisers) is leaving evidence of her fickle, unrelenting temper.

Yesterday my editor Kristina was out sandbagging her apartment.  My friends Nick and Sarah and their son Patrick had to evacuate from their inner-city house and take refuge with friends.   My husband left his workplace at midday. Three hours later and the only way in or out of there was by air.  Still I convince myself that things are maybe not as bad as they sound. And I’m convinced. Convinced right up until I turn on the news and watch footage of the CBD where a picnic table and fridge are seen floating down the Brisbane River.

A lot of platitudes get rolled out when tragedy strikes.  I know. I’m the one who’s usually saying them.  Belongings don’t matter, we soothe. You’re safe and that’s what’s important. And that’s true.  Of course, it’s true. To physically be able to hold your loved ones right now is not something any Queenslander is taking for granted. I heard an Ipswich woman – a mother  – say on TV that she didn’t know where her nine-year-old daughter was.  I could hear the fear in her voice. She is living a nightmare.  Children have been killed in these floods. A mother and her two kids were literally swept away in their car. A father and son drowned at their home.  Entire families have gone missing. I hear every single one of those reports with a strangled heart.

But thousands of other Queenslanders are facing a different – but still legitimate – type of grief. They are grieving the loss of their homes. Homes now caked in thick, putrid, sticky mud.  Homes that will look and feel and smell like they can never be scrubbed clean.  Countless families are mourning the death of a much-cherished family pet – a dog or cat that has simply gone missing. Somewhere I bet a young woman is crying because an heirloom wedding dress – her mother’s maybe – is now utterly ruined. Somewhere else an exhausted father is quietly weeping over the knowledge that every family photo ever taken is gone.  Can you imagine? Try.

So. Here we are.  What can we do for these families?  We can’t replace what they’ve lost but we can sure as hell try to give them a fresh start. And we do that by donating money rather than goods.   I’ll let the Australian Red Cross explain.

“Affected communities recover sooner when they can make their own choices. This includes choosing and purchasing goods to help put their lives back together again rather than being given goods. Another benefit of this is that money is being put back into the community to stimulate local businesses. This is an important part of the local economic recovery.”

So I ask you to give what money you can. Twenty dollars. Ten dollars. The $4.50 you’d usually spend on that so-so takeaway coffee.  Eat cereal for dinner this week and give the Premier’s Relief Fund fifty dollars.  Take that lamp you hate into Cash Converters and donate the proceeds. Hold a garage sale.  Put something on eBay. Dig deep.

As for me, I have my list. I’m ready to evacuate my tribe at the drop of a hat.  I just hope like hell I don’t have to do it.

Allison Rushby writes

The yellow house
Allison Rushby

This is why you should listen to your mum: the time before last that we moved house, we looked at renting the yellow house, pictured.  We also looked at renting one slightly further up the hill.  My mum was Not Pleased.  She’d lived through the 1974 floods, pregnant (with me), worried out of her mind and running around after a house that ended up with water over its roof.  We ended up moving to a house that will probably flood around 2pm this afternoon.  When we moved there, I got The Talk.  And everyone I told this to thought getting The Talk was pretty funny.  I mean, the 1974 flood was eons ago and we had all these fancy things now, like dams.  Right?

Actually, no.  Wrong.  Very wrong, as it turns out.

We moved again, thank God.  And even though we’re in the same suburb as the yellow house, we’re fine where we are now, well above the 1974 flood line.  It’s an odd day.  We live on a main road and it is Christmas Day-quiet outside – the traffic is minimal.  But every few minutes a siren will scream past, breaking that silence.  And there are so many helicopters.  The strangest sound of all is all the mowers going. It’s sunny today, after weeks of rain and as people aren’t going in to work, they’re taking the opportunity to mow the lawn.  The day is a mix of frenzied panic and relaxed Sunday afternoon.

I’m home alone with my two small kids, trying to keep them entertained by doing things like eating ice-blocks in the wading pool, which feels just plain wrong.  My husband has gone to work at his hospital because people still need surgery and babies are still being born (I can attest to this because I called him before and one of them was screaming extremely loudly, which was lovely to hear).  I don’t know when he’ll be back.  Maybe tomorrow, maybe not.   We’re cut off from my parents, about ten minutes down the road.  But if I need advice, I know who to ring to ask – my mum.  And this time you can bet I’ll listen to what she has to say…

ABC Radio have likened the flood devastation to being on par with Cyclone Tracey, you can listen to yesterday morning’s program here.

Amateur footage that has been captured by Queensland residents show the full effects of the flash flooding that hit Toowoomba on Monday

To help those affected, you can donate here.

RSPCA Qld is calling for donations that can be used to help pets, livestock and to purchase wildlife supplies in areas affected by the current flood crisis. You can find out more and donate here.

Sending all our love, thoughts, prayers and support to everyone in Queensland who has been affected.

Are you in Queensland? Do you know people in flooded areas? We’d love to hear from you…

[Unless otherwise stated photos via The Courier Mail]

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