Three generations of women were severely impacted by the Queensland floods. The personal tragedy of the floods would have been much worse if it was not for the bonds that tie many families together. Houses belonging to Cheryle Wong and her mother were both completely submerged. Their family support has kept them afloat through some of the hardest times of their lives.
Memories of the floods will stay with Cheryle for the rest of her days. Many of those memories she would prefer to forget.
With the rain falling non-stop and the Bremmer River on the rise, Cheryle, who's nearly 60, moved her elderly parents out of their house in the Ipswich suburb of Karalee. A short time later they all had to evacuate her house in the neighbouring suburb of Goodna as well. "My three beautiful daughters came and helped us, took us into their care and looked after us really well," Cheryle says.
With a shaky voice, Cheryle recalls the horror of what took place as the Goodna River rose 21 metres and turned much of her town into a lake. "Their place went right under. My place went up as far as the skylight and the whole ceiling just collapsed. It was just like a big ocean, I couldn't believe it."
Both houses were completely submerged and in the middle of the inland sea that engulfed Ipswich and much of central and southern Queensland.
Things were not made any easier by the fact that Cheryle's husband needed urgent medical care and had to be taken straight to hospital. "The day we were hit was horrible. My husband's on life support, he has emphysema and on oxygen 24/7."
The waters rose so quickly that many like Cheryle and her family had little time to grab their essentials:
"I grabbed my husband's medication and his oxygen machine. I just went to our filing cabinet and I threw it all in a plastic bag, so I got our life insurance and our contents insurance and things like that," says Cheryle.
One of her biggest regrets was not having prepared some other precious items like photos. Many were damaged beyond repair. "The photos just melted on the wall." Cheryle only managed to save a few laminated pictures from her mud-ruined house. "I had a photo of my husband when he was young. That's just peeling. You can't save it."
Fortunately a lot of the historic family photos were saved as Cheryle's mother, Margaret, had spent a little more time preparing to evacuate. "Mum decided to take her photos. She grabbed all her photos which was really good."
The rains came down with such intensity over such a short time in some areas of Queensland, that many people were caught off guard when the flood waters poured in to their houses. "I didn't realise we were going to lose everything, I thought we were going to be back the next day."
There is growing evidence that being prepared can significantly assist people to cope with disasters. "Red Cross is working with other agencies and governments around Australia to educate people about the need to be prepared ahead of disasters. We need to try to minimise the stress of losing a home and treasured possessions," says Andrew Coghlan, National Manager Emergency Services at Australian Red Cross.
Cheryle says it has been one of the toughest periods of her life. "I thought to myself 'please help us survive and get over this'." Like many Queenslanders though, she says there are others who are worse off.
"I have a lovely family. I can't imagine what other people went through as well. They haven't got families like me."
Living in a rental house with her mother, she says had not been easy. "Mum's up and down with it. She'll have her bad days and she'll have a good day. I try to cheer her up and she tries to cheer me up."
Two months after the floods hit, Cheryle's not sure when the impacts of the disaster will really sink in. "I haven't had that time on my own to really take in what has happened," she says.
Red Cross played a vital role in helping her and her family cope through the hard times, Cheryle says. The three generations of women, Cheryle, her mother Margaret, and daughter Julie were all assisted by Red Cross staff and volunteers at the Goodna Recovery Centre.
"It did help me knowing there are people out there to help us … Red Cross, everyone. It was important to me. I didn't know who to turn to. It lifted my spirits up. I just think they (Red Cross) were absolutely wonderful," Cheryle says.
The community spirit and support has also been incredibly valuable. "The people I have met (following the floods) it's amazing how … people have come together as one big family. The help and support from people you don't even know was absolutely wonderful. It brought tears to my eyes."
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Click here for further information on the Red Cross response to the Queensland floods 2011.
Photos: Australian Red Cross / Bradley Kanaris