Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Eating yoghurt with a fork

I woke with my sun on the face. It was deathly quiet and for the first time in weeks there was not the steady, cool drum of rain on the roof. For the first day this Summer it felt like a normal day. Except it wasn't.

I turned the TV on, which is rare, and the emotions were similar to back in 2001 when I watched the Twin Towers. It was strange. Pottering about the house getting ready for work, while the sun shone and Brisbane was just waking up. And the river was silently rising.

As I drove towards work there were people walking dogs, people out running and not many cars at all. In fact it was very quiet for a Wednesday morning in Brisbane, not the steady pre peak hum of a city waking up, but absolute stillness. A hot, bright, steamy day. Until the peace was shattered by the blackhawk helicopters and the news choppers and the search and rescue choppers. A cacophony of blades against the blue blue sky.

We turned the corner to drive onto the usual freeway entry and suddenly there was a lake. A deep, brown, muddy lake surrounded by police tape. A detour left and another detour, this time with a high vis vested policeman directing traffic. And so it went, dead end after dead end. The Brisbane streets a maze of hand on the left wall to get out.

The Possum and Bingley were in the car with me, dropping me off at work, making sure I could get there and also making sure that I didn't need to park, as everywhere around the hospital is under water. There is no public transport to where we live now. The shops are closed or bare. And the morning was so still.

At work all "elective" surgeries were cancelled and the NUM of my ward fielded calls from those who were stuck. We can't get in. We can't get out. Our house is going under. We're evacuating... stories that seem so bizarre on such a fine sunny morning. It was surreal.

Yesterday as the news of the rising waters hit, and the impact began to reveal itself, I thought of the Possum's beautiful daycare centre. The little ramshackle place that has been part of our family for over 6 years, situated right on the river. The rain was bucketing down. Not a shower; not a storm; but bucketing. The roads around the hospital began to flood and every news bulletin carried my suburb as a headline - "going under". I could not focus on work. Every news bulletin was grimer. First flash flooding. Then bad flooding. Then whispers of "74" started to get out and I knew there was no point to me being at work. My baby was at daycare, next to the river, in an area under the 74 zone and I had to get to him. Mum and Dad had seen their city swept away the day before, a torrential flash flood that was beamed across the world because of its ferocity and destruction and I didn't like to tempt fate. I told my superiors and ran out into the rain and was instantly soaked.

The rain was indescribable. So heavy that you could not see. My eyelashes flattened in the deluge, instantly becoming wet to my skin through my layers of clothing. It was like swimming, but it stung as it hit my face. Huge heavy drops. Half the hospital was leaving with me and as I crawled out of the carpark and through the puddles I shivered in the airconditioning of the car, desperately calling Bingley to make sure he was out of the water. Pre-empting me he had gone to our centre and was helping to evacuate. All the children and staff out, everything of value that we could carry out. All the insurance papers and all those little things that make this tiny little centre perfect enough to trust with 3 of my babies, loaded into cars and shipped to higher ground, but leaving so much. Even thinking of it now my throat constricts.

Bingley and I met at home, stripping off our layers of sodden clothing and watching the Possum gallop around the living room. We turned on the TV and I was glued, for hours, watching the river rise, watching the suburbs and the landmarks I love be tickled, then licked, then smothered by water. And it was to get worse. Worse maybe than 74. Wivenhoe more than 100%. More than 150%. More than 200% as the rain came and came, and the knowledge that the wall of water that had hit the Lockey Valley, my home for some of my most formative years, was coming too.

And we went to bed with my brain swirling with the same murky waters that were creeping over the city, the mild sense of panic and a serene knowledge that all would be ok. Now that the 3 of us were together. (The girls are at Bingley's parent's well away from the South East corner). We had power and water and internet. And as I called my sister and brother they were ok too. Flooding near them, but not to them yet. And they were ok.

So today I went to work, the most convoluted path I've ever gone, but it was a normal day. A day so normal that it was surreal as I regularly flicked through the image gallery on the Courier Mail, usually surrounded by a gaggle of nurses as we stood awestruck by the destruction. Occasional gasps of "that's right near me". And frantic phone calls to check on loved ones. But in between the regular monotonous work that I do every day. The same sorts of things. The same sorts of tasks. Eating yoghurt with a fork because I couldn't find a spoon. And I signed up to do more shifts, because I knew we were short staffed and that they would need help.

And on the sun shone.

The air though was strange. Surreal. Even in the bright cheerful sun you could feel the river rising. Smell the steam as the sun lifted some of the deluge and feel the energy of the slow rising water as it engulfed the city. My sister posted regularly throughout the day, pictures of the suburb that we moved from just over a year ago and streets and parks we love were unrecognisable under the tide of water. I offered her a bed. Then cajoled. Then used my best big sister voice to convince her to come, worried about the streets that were being cut off at each end and the waters ever rising. And tonight, as the sky darkened we stood out on our verandah, which usually has views of twinkling lights of the city and it was darkness.

Blackout over the brightest lights of the third largest city in Australia. Tracts of darkness. And the occasional whine of the military helicopters against the inky night. We watched then walked back into our brightly lit, airconditioned house with full power and gas and water and internet and it seemed even mroe strange. Then the frantic call to my sister to check she was ok as she eventually succumbed to the evacuation. Smelling of river mud and strange exhilirated fear when she got here. Wanting to equally smack and hug her. Wondering at this strange new world of ours. Sitting on the couch watching GoMA, the beautiful building I posted of just days ago be touched by the greasy river, molested by the debris that chugged downstream.

The pubs near us are on high ground, and even yet I can hear them. They were full this afternoon as we went through - large groups of slightly shellshocked locals having a drink and sharing stories. Those who remember '74 regaling the young ones. Those of us who don't creating our own. No one is sure exactly how they should behave. Some are filling that gap with "helping". There were more volunteers at the Bardon sandbaggers than gawkers. Others like me work essential services and filled the hours with that. But there were a great deal many more who wandered the streets, cameras pointed at the deluge, puzzled looks on their faces, as if they too, couldn't quite grasp the enormity of this.

And even tonight, perhaps because I am curled up in my own very comfortable bed, with te fan whirring softly above me, and my belly full from a cooked dinner, I can't imagine this. I can't reconcile all those pictures of my beautiful city with this strangled brown wreck. We drove home as close to the city as we could and I *saw* it, and yet I still cannot believe that we are being molested thus. That we have not agreed to this. Have not consented to this invasion and yet it comes anyway.

It feels worse somehow that the sun is shining. Sun is what we do best here in Brisbane. We do sun, and thick muggy afternoons and the most incredible electrical storms you will ever see. Games of spontaneous football or frisbee in the park. BBQs and beer. And to have the first glorious day in months, a day that should be spent enjoing the parks and the creeks and maybe out on the river spoiled by a rapidly rising torrent of hidden debris and dreams is heart breaking.

The air is so still at the moment. The wind is not talking to me, too busy surveying the river. And even now, the lasting heat of the day is steaming off the snaking river, shimmering above it in the starlight as I gaze over the balcony. I am wishing for rain, and yet not wishing at the same time. Raid would make this more real. Yesterday as the rain battered my skin and soaked my hair the floods seemed so real. So imminent. But tonight in the warm mugginess it's not. The river is rising, and the night is too frightened to intervene.


cjtato said...

Glad you are all safe Jen! It's just so unbelievable and heartbreaking.

Kirsten said...

Glad to hear your house is ok.

I'm on the Gold Coast and yesterday was a nice day here too, except that it wasn't. It's just so devastating and surreal.

Melissa said...

I was worried about you and Bingley, Jenn - hoping against hope that you were both safe and dry. I couldn't get the image of your porch and that hammock out of my head for some reason.

I didn't realise your parents were in the pathway of that horrible wall of water. Are they ok?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...