July 20, 2012

The Flood Part 1 (Jan 2011)

I've seen photos of natural disasters before and heard stories on the news of earthquakes or fires or floods. They always warn you to be more prepared. You always wonder how you would manage or survive or handle those situations. But still you go day to day living your life and never really believing it will happen to you. Here's the story (part 1) of when it actually did happen to us and how we overcame it.

Spoiler alert:
Photos of our house taken by my next door neighbor in the middle of the floods (it got worse).


And here's a picture of their house when they got back in.

Now let me tell you the story. January 10th - 2011 was a very rainy day. Though really it had a been a very rainy month. I watched my sister-in-law Claire load the suitcases in the car in the pouring rain as she got ready to head off to the airport.  We said our goodbyes and I spent the day cleaning the house and doing about 5 loads of laundry.


The next morning the rain was heavy again and I decided to get onto facebook and update my status to let my friends back home not to worry about us- that the reports of flooding in Australia weren't effecting me. Shortly after my sister Katie had to update that comment to announce that we were in fact in danger and were being evacuated.


It was a strange morning. Varian's boss had him call to make sure we were okay and if we were in danger of flooding. I turned on the news and looked online and didn't see any warnings. But soon after I got a call from Michaela, my mother-in-law, telling me that flash flooding was coming and to get what I could and get out of the house. My first thought was to wonder where I would even go. She said they were going to evacuate to her sisters house and I could join her there.


The rain was coming down pretty heavy at this point and I put Jaren down for a nap and said a little prayer that he would sleep well so that I could focus on packing up our car and getting us out. I can't count the number of Sunday school lessons or school discussion groups where they'd ask you if your house was on fire (or some such disaster) and you could only get so many things out of your house what would it be. All of a sudden this scenario was actually coming true. I kept telling myself, this is not a drill - what is essential, what can I get out? I then ran around my house making a pile of things by the door and then loading up my car in the drenching rain. Remember at this time- I'm nearly 5 months pregnant as well.


So the first thing I grabbed were all of our photo albums and journals. Then memory cards and camera equipment. I desperately packed a bag of a spare outfits/underwear for each of us, some diapers and some baby food (where's your 72 hour kit when you need it?). I remember looking at my pantry wondering what to grab. I grabbed peanut butter because in the Relief Society survival class they talked about how it's high in protein. Tuna fish, can opener, formula, flashlight, soap, matches....what else do I take?


People on the street were all packing up their cars as well and leaving. Mum kept calling me telling me to get out. I had heard from Varian's work that he had left and told her I was waiting for him to come home. She kept saying, don't worry about Varian, he can swim, get you and your baby out. It was wild. I ran around the house wondering what to grab and what wouldn't fit. Both of my sisters skyped me that morning and I told them frantically - I can't talk, I'm evacuating from the floods, keep us in your prayers.


Varian got off the train and had to cross over the river to get to our house. The bridge that he usually crosses had already flooded and the water was up to his knees as he held on to the railing and crossed over to get to our house.


But when he got home he felt very calm about the whole thing and felt people were exaggerating. A few weeks before flash flooding had come and wiped out a town an hour or so away from us, killing over 20 people and destroying so many homes. He felt we weren't in an area that could flash flood. His demeanor calmed me, but also made me second guess what else I should try to save. He didn't expect we'd get much flooding, but did help me put some of the things up on countertops and beds. He watched the news for more updates and we decided that we should head out.


In hindsight how we wish we could have known more what was coming or what to expect. If only we could have saved this and that...etc. Thank heavens we at least got out with what we did, because 1/2 hour later our road was flooded over and had we left later we would have lost our car and everything I had packed in it. But we decided we would be safe at his mom's house had we known ahead of time, we could have tried to take over an earlier load and come back, or walk through the water carrying some of our things, or put things up in our roof....we just didn't know. And like I said, people had died from these same floods and I didn't know how bad it was going to get and if we should just hurry and leave - no matter how precious some material object may be, it's not as precious as the lives of your family.

We didn't know how bad the damage would be. We went to the nearby grocery store and already this is what the shelves looked like. We rented some movies thinking we'd just have to stick out the storm and then we'd be back in. What we hoped would be just a sleepover at Varian's mom's house turned out to be a 3 week shelter for us. Varian ended up walking over the flooded field to get to our house. I had totally forgotten to even go out to the garage for anything and he had some memory boxes in there. He tried to stack then on higher shelves and hoped they'd be okay and grabbed a few more things. Again looking back how we wish we would have carried things over the field and saved more of our things. But at the time I didn't know if he'd be safe and was worried about him risking going back. I hadn't realized that in the garage were bins of Varian's mission journals and photos all of which later were ruined. They're among some of the heartbreaking things that we lost. Had only we known...

That night however the power went out. We sat there wondering what was happening. We could no longer watch the news or hear any updates. We didn't know how far the water would rise, or when we'd get back to our house. I remember lying there that night on a fold-out couch, wondering what was going to happen to us. I felt a bit dazed. I prayed for protection of our house, but knew that it may not be possible. With so many people who had already lost their homes or lives, I just felt so grateful that we were okay and hoped that our home might be spared.


The next morning Michaela's cousin/flatmate woke us up to come look outside. This is what we saw. The houses right behind her house (luckily we were on a hill -about 2 min away from our house) were already starting to flood and behind them it was just one giant lake, covering whatever houses had been there. Still we had hope that maybe our land might have been higher and not as effected. At this point we kept hoping and praying that the water would only be a few feet in our home, so that everything we had stacked high would survive.


We went and drove as close as we could to our house to see how much things were going under. We were shocked to see what had already happened and wondered if possibly our house still could make it. We talked to neighbors and heard stories of the '74 floods and how people survived. We sat there helpless, watching the water rise inch by inch along the road and houses just as we stood there. This area wasn't a flash flood at all, it was just slowly rising water that had no where to drain. Our house was between a river and a drainage creek and both of them continually backed up with no where else for the water to go but over these houses. 


It was hard not to think of all the things we could have gotten out. Our computer with so many photos and documents on it, our African paintings, the Cherry Painting my mother had given us at our wedding, statues, and jewelry and instruments. We had so few clothes, so few toiletries, so little of all the things you are used to using every day. We waited for days with no power and no contact just waiting and wondering and fearing what was to be.

To be continued...


Eve said...

Leah, I'd heard about this, but not in this much detail! That's so awful! I'm so sorry this had to happen to you guys! Now, I'm not so sure I love natural disasters anymore! We are all missing you guys a bunch back here in Boston! I know we saw each other just last month, but we need to get together again! All the time we have together never seems enough! I check your blog everyday to stay posted on your life! (I hate being behind!)Well, loving and missing you all! Love, Eve xxx

kate said...

can't believe how extensive it was. my heart ached for you at the time, while i was hearing about all this, and does again reading about your experiences first hand. what a surreal and tragic event to live through. SO glad you were all safe. love you!!