Sarah’s brave face

On the loss and recovery journey after the floods.

Sarah thought her place would be safe from flooding when the rains started in late February.

The single mum was at home in Tweed Heads, NSW, when the rains became heavy. “I always get up at 5:30am and go for a run,” she says. “But I got up and it was pouring with rain so I obviously couldn't. And then, when it got light at around 6:20am, I looked over because we lived right near the canal. The water was right up near where I was. My landlady lives upstairs from me. I texted her to say ‘Do you think I should start moving everything out?’ And she went, ‘Oh no, it's fine. We don't flood here’. And then about half an hour later, she rings me and she said, ‘move everything, it’s coming in’.

Sarah was at home waiting to go for her morning run when the water started rising faster than she had imagined.

Sarah tried to move her belongings as high as she could. But the water rose too fast and too high. She lost almost everything. “I had to move all my furniture as much as I could, my rugs, table and chairs and other stuff. I tried to get my clothes and documents up high and then within half an hour I’m waist deep in the water. It was just ridiculous. It happened so quickly.”

Sarah tried to save what she could of her household belongings by moving them.

Sarah was lucky to be rescued by friends and found a place to stay with her boss and his wife. But she can never return to her home again. “My landlords who lived upstairs said that obviously the place is unliveable to live in. So, I lost my home as well.”

She’s been house-hunting while couch-surfing with friends. “I stayed with my boss and his wife for a month and now I'm staying with another friend for a month and a half. And then I've got to find somewhere else. But it's so hard to find anywhere - everywhere is expensive or there's nothing there. At the moment, whoever can fit me in, that's where I'm staying.

I’ve got to find somewhere where it’s close to my daughter. I’ve got to find four weeks bond, find two weeks rent. I'm a single parent. Yes, I work full time, but it's financially draining. I didn't expect to lose about $20,000 worth of stuff overnight.”

Despite moving what she could to higher ground, Sarah lost many of her belongings to the rising waters.

With support from the Australian Red Cross Relief Grant, Sarah was able to buy back a few essentials as she searches for somewhere permanent. “I spent it on groceries and petrol, and some of the things I lost in the flood like my hair dryer and hair straightener. I lost all my makeup, even my toothbrush and toothpaste. So, the grant helped me. Every and any little funds help. I do appreciate all the support which is out there. When you do get a little bit you just got to be careful on how you use it because you don't know when you're going to be fully back up on your feet. Every penny I spend, I have to watch.”

As her recovery journey continues, Sarah is seeing a counsellor and keen to be involved in recovery activities in the community. “People need to know how devastating it is to lose everything,” she says. “We'll put brave faces on, because we have to. I still have to go to work every day and get money to put food on the table for my daughter. There's been days where I just didn't want to because I was just absolutely devastated by what happened. A lot of people would probably see me or see other people who have lost everything but don't realise that and don't know how they're struggling inside.”

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