When Polly Camp went to bed on a Sunday, she couldn’t have known less than 24 hours later she would be sobbing in a stranger’s arms.
The flood warning she was watching assured her the floods in Lismore weren’t expected to peak until the following day. She had already prepared by taking a few things out of her shop – a small collectibles and antiques business she’d only just established – and moving them to her house.
But as she awoke in the dark, she knew it was time to move. “I woke up about 3:30 in the morning, and picked up my phone,” she says. “A friend of mine had texted me to say ‘I hope you're on high ground’. I went into the kitchen and I picked up a torch, and I as I looked out the back all I could see from my backyard was the top of my birdbath. So I knew that there was at least a half a metre of water in my backyard.”
She quickly packed her dog and a few valuables, including her phone, and got in her car to go. But behind her, the Lismore levee broke and pushed the car forward and amongst the floodwaters. There was nothing to do but cling on for her life. “I opened up the passenger side and unbuckled myself. I put my handbag over my head and I'm screaming to my dog, ‘we've got to go we've got to go, we've got to go”. It was dark and all the power lines were out. I climbed out the window and as I was climbing I saw a white piece of conduit and I grabbed a hold of that. I went to look around for my dog and my car just got sucked under the water.”
She waited for hours in the freezing water, being battered by floating debris, before she was rescued by an SES crew and taken to an evacuation centre where she collapsed emotionally. “I went and had a shower to get everything off. There was a lady that gave me clothes when I jumped out of the shower. She gave me a man's shirt and a lovely pair of wrinkly pants. And she said to me ‘You'll be alright now’. And I just broke down in tears. I said ‘I lost my dog. I feel like it was my fault that I put her in the car’. I just howled and she just grabbed me and gave me the biggest cuddle, which is what I needed.”
With all her belongings washed away in the water, including her mobile phone, Polly had no way to let her family and friends know she was OK. She was supported to register with the Register.Find.Reunite service, and found siblings and friends had already enquired with the service to see if she was safe. “I’m one of nine children,” she says. “I have three sisters in Melbourne, one in Mullumbimby and a brother who was also affected by the floods. Everybody was sort of wondering what was going on.
A girlfriend of mine called and she found out that I was alive. Everyone was trying to ring my phone. It just went onto message bank.”
But as she remembers the night, Polly remains grateful for the support she received. “I lost everything. I lost my business. I lost my home and I lost my dog. It was through the Red Cross, that made me feel alive.”