Linda’s coped with plenty of floods and cyclones. But 12 months after floodwaters swept through her northern New South Wales house, she says this one left her still reeling.
Linda lives with her husband on a ridge above the mighty Tweed River in the village of Condong. She sees several floods each year. But in the 38 years the house has been in the family, Linda says they’d never expected flood waters to get as high as they did in March 2017, in the wake of Cyclone Debbie.
The house is on ground so high it’s considered the safest place for locals to park their cars each big wet. The waters rise, they can even come part way up the back steps of Linda’s raised house, the water recedes and Linda sets about cleaning up the mud.
At least, until last April.
This time the waters went up the back steps and into the house via the back door. Linda and her husband opened the front door to let the water out, but more water came rushing in.
That’s when they knew they were in uncharted territory. They moved the fridge off the floor – putting it up on cans but that too went under water. They sat on the bed with the animals and watched the water cover everything. Lina remembers watching their shoes float away.
Linda is a capable rural woman. She knows how to prepare and respond to disasters.
“I’ve been through a couple of cyclones, and they didn’t worry me,” she says. “We’ve always been prepared for those, and we were prepared, we thought for this. We have our radio, and we have everything ready, extra batteries for lights and all that type of thing.”
She wants people to know that big disasters can happen to anyone, at any time.
“You don’t expect it to happen, and it can happen.”
But the worst thing, she says, is how darned long it takes to get over it.
Today, Linda is sitting on her back veranda with local women; some of them were flooded last year, some are local Red Cross emergency services volunteers. She’s reflecting on their long journey back to normalcy, and wonders if life will even be really normal again.
“It’s been long. And I can’t say that I’m still recovered. I still feel addled at times, and think, oh, is it going to happen again? I just… I’m still not sure.”
Linda says the smallest things can trigger feelings of anxiety. Things like rain. Remembering something that’s lost. The sight of mud.
Her friend Lisa lives in the same community. She was flooded and is also a Red Cross volunteer who put up her hand to help others. She recalls how, even though she’d done her own disaster plan using Red Cross’ RediPlan, the size of the disaster took her by surprise. She says some of the steps she took paid off, and others didn’t.
“I’d done a RediPlan, so I put it into action. Basically I’ve learned just keep calm, don’t panic.
“But we should’ve probably evacuated the first signs that come in. We should’ve just got out of there, taken our cars, and done it. Because I’ve been here so long, I thought I’d be fine. And we put the cars up on the highest point where they never get flooded ever, and we got caught out.
“But we still had mobile phones, and I have a Red Cross little radio that you crank up, so when the power kept going on and off we cranked up the radio, and heard updates, and we had our phones still going as well. So things like that all come into play.”
Another part of her RediPlan that helped was having a print-out of her emergency contacts.
“I have all my emergency contacts for me, and also for my son, so that’s all there. I had that in a bright orange folder that Red Cross organized, so that was handy.”
The long journey to recovery
For the last 12 months Red Cross has been supporting people’s recovery at numerous communities in Queensland and New South Wales. We’ve employed recovery workers, who along with our trained volunteers, have been active at events, in schools, working with councils and other agencies wherever there’s a need.
And one thing people say over and over again is they’re not recovered.
Linda’s neighbour Sharon has also had a tough year.
“Twelve months later we’re still cleaning up, because every time you move something, there’s another heap of mud. I lost probably about $50,000 in the flood and didn’t have flood insurance,” she recalls.
“You feel a bit stupid. You think, ‘I should be able to do it; just cope, just get on with it.’ And 12 months down the track, it all comes back now when you start talking about it. Or sometimes I go to a photo on me phone and just look at it, and sometimes you just burst into tears. It’s just devastating to think what you lost.”
Emergency Services volunteer Marie has been part of her community’s journey for the last 12 months.
“People are still very, very devastated because of the flood. They are very traumatized now every time rain occurs, which is just very daunting, because we normally have a lot of rain here.”
She says Red Cross will continue to be there, walking alongside the community, as we have been for a century.
And her biggest piece of advice?
“If people have done a RediPlan, if they’ve had a chat to people prior to a flood, knowing that it’s going to happen, and what to do, sometimes that helps a bit. But with that much devastation, you just can’t be that prepared. Especially this last one, there’s never been such a big flood.
“But I think talking to people, talking to your neighbours, being part of the community, that all helps to build up the resilience after the flood. But it can take years.”