Queensland floods – day nine

Another early start – a meeting with Shanna, our Red Cross Commander, over breakfast. It’s the only time we can find for me to feed back some of my observations in my monitoring and evaluation role.
Back at the EOC, things are buzzing. After such a busy day yesterday, the tension is imperceptibly higher. Lots to do, lots changing in the flood-affected areas. Rockhampton river levels are at 9.15 metres: they are expected to peak at 9.4 metres tomorrow. Nevertheless, it will about a week for the water level to get back down below 8.5 metres, and yet another week to get below 7 metres. This is not going to be over any time soon.
Imagine having to leave your house and all your belongings behind with maybe two days’ warning. Imagine that your house is only one storey high, like many houses here in Queensland, and your other usual storage space is your garage. Imagine that you and your family can literally take no more than you can carry in your arms, maybe into a helicopter or small boat. Imagine trying to figure out what to do with the family dog, cat, hamster.
Imagine the water flooding in literally to the rafters of your home, leaving nothing visible but a roof. Imagine all the belongings you will lose – all the memories, the photos, the files, the documents, the clothes, the toys, the bedding, household goods like fridges, washing machines, laptops, stereos, iPods, X-Boxes. Imagine how the fabric of your house will be damaged by immersion in river water thick with mud and debris for up to three weeks. Imagine you live surrounded by fields of watermelons or other crops, and how your home and belongings will smell when these crops start to rot.
Imagine going back to your home every day to start the grim work of the clean-up, but having to go back to the local evacuation centre every night to sleep and get fed. Imagine your whole local town centre closed up because every single building has been similarly damaged. Imagine most of the roads into your town washed away, and there is no open supermarket, no fresh food, no fuel, no cleaning equipment, nowhere to buy new clothes, no takeaway food, sometimes no electricity.
This is reality for over 1,000 families in Queensland right now, across 22 towns.
Back in the EOC, we are visited by Dr. Rob Gordon, consultant to Red Cross and an expert in helping communities affected by emergencies. For many years Rob has worked with many Australian communities who have experienced disasters such as fires, floods and cyclones. Rob takes time to talk with the incident management team about how we can look after ourselves better when working under stress. It’s a useful hour spent reminding ourselves of the importance of looking after our own wellbeing.
Groups of volunteers arrive and leave again, back to the airport, or off in a convoy of four-wheel drives on an eight-hour journey to yet another flood-affected community. The aid worker’s mantra of “hurry up and wait” is often in evidence, as demands change, and people’s destinations change at the last minute. The volunteers sit in the kitchen chatting to each other, patient and good-natured despite the uncertainty.
Those still around at dinner sit down and share in some delicious Turkish food, whilst Commander wanders the office making sure that everybody is logging of for a (relatively) early finish. It is seven o’clock.
Tomorrow I head for Emerald and another perspective on this huge event. It is humbling to be involved, and able to assist in a small way. And so to bed.
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