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Stress busters


Desley Routledge and her husband Kevin could not believe it when their house, business and community were severely affected by one of the 'inland tsunamis' that swept through parts of southeast Queensland in January 2011. After the floods, Desley says the stress hit her hard and her community was initially "forgotten" amid the enormous disaster. A year on, Desley believes Red Cross ongoing support has been "brilliant" and has made the world of difference for her family.

Desley sits on her patio, looking out over her backyard, which backs on to forest and a creek. Her four grandchildren are playing joyfully in their background. It is no ordinary backyard.

The property in Yarraman southeast Queensland, is littered with dozens of vehicles, cars and motorbikes of all shapes and sizes. Desley and Kevin also run a workshop and café business and their backyard doubles as a holding yard for rows of dozens of vehicles. Some need repair, while others are unlicensed or impounded.

Desley recalls the day of the floods all too vividly. Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley had been hammered by enormous walls of water that killed 22 people and wiped out everything along the way.

With more storms on the horizon, Desley and her husband Kevin decided to evacuate and head to higher ground in town at their daughter's place. "That night, it probably started storming at about 7.30. It never stopped," Desley remembers.

The next morning, Desley says she "finally got the courage up to come down and have a look and we were just totally under water, utter devastation."

There were cars up trees, water tanks washed downstream and chaos everywhere. "Two acres of fencing just ripped out of the ground, cars in the creek, furniture gone from the patio, kids swings, toys."

Desley remembers what hurt the most was that treasured personal items that could not be replaced were also missing or destroyed, like "an old rocking horse that was my sister's. The old things that I had of my mother's, just washed away."

Adding to the drama, Desley's husband has a hearing impairment. "Kevin is deaf. I got sick of yelling," Desley remarks. In the rush to leave their property, Kevin left both of his hearing aids behind. It took three months before they managed to get replacements, which Desley affirms was tough on everyone.

The physical clean up and the financial costs took their toll, however, the emotional strain was huge. "I think I suffered for four months afterwards. I couldn't touch anything because I had stress and it actually came out through my hands."

"That was pretty bad as far as business and everything went too because I couldn't work." Their business had already been badly affected as roads in and out of Yarraman had been washed away.

"I don't know if you ever get back to where you were before a disaster. It changes everything. It changes your outlook, what you even do. It brings you a bit closer to your family," says Desley.

Psychologist Dr Rob Gordon says Desley's experience is normal. "Everyone affected will recover to some degree. They will continue to feel pain, sadness and grief, but there will be a creative outcome; many speak of a much clearer sense of what's important, and treasuring life."

Over the past year Red Cross staff and volunteers have visited a further 16,000 people in flood affected areas right across Queensland and supported community events as part of a long-term recovery program. These visits give people an opportunity to talk about their recovery, which has been shown to significantly assist people as they recover.

Desley cannot speak highly enough of the support provided. "Red Cross has been brilliant. For me … to talk to somebody … was really good for me. It was a bit of a stress buster actually. I really would support Red Cross in the future because I think what they've done is absolutely incredible."

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Photos: Australian Red Cross/Jack Tran

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