Cleaning up after a flood — my experience

As a survivor of the 2011 floods in Brisbane, I want to share a few words of experience with people affected by the 2013 floods, particularly in Bundaberg.

  1. Prioritise personal safety. Buildings can be structurally unsafe after they have been flooded or even washed off their foundations – get them checked out by specialists if in doubt. Scratches and cuts can get infected – get them attended to.
  2. Prioritise relationships – look after the people in your life – your family. In a few years you will look back on the flood as a trying and difficult time. Don’t let it break your relationships.
  3. Sort out alternative accommodation – if you are not able to move back into your home immediately, then try to find a base that will be comfortable for the medium term. You will be going to a scene of devastation each day, try to have somewhere pleasant to escape to in the evening.
  4. Assuming that your home is still structurally sound, take your time before starting the clean-up. Well-meaning people will be telling you that you must get the mud out and dry your house as soon as possible. A couple of days is not going to make much difference. Take the time to assess the damage and plan the clean-up – What needs to be disposed of? What is able to be saved? Find out how to save things.
  5. Project-manage your volunteers. There are going to be many well-meaning volunteers wanting to assist. Unfortunately, they may be over-enthusiastic and actually throw away items that you may want to try to salvage. Volunteers will actually appreciate a well organised clean-up, so do them a favour and project manage their help. Pause every so often to evaluate the clean-up activities.
  6. Allow your house to dry. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to seal up damp walls. Open up the house windows, if possible place fans around the house, and let it dry.

And now some advice for the many well-meaning people sitting on the sidelines:

  1. If you have never been flooded, then you have absolutely no idea what these people are going through. Offer them your support, but do not pretend that you understand what they are going through.
The flood water peaked at the top of our fence ...

The flood water peaked at the top of our fence …

Our experience

When the Bruce Highway flooded in the 2011 floods, we were on the wrong side of it to return home. By the time the Bruce Highway reopened, the end of our street had flooded. We therefore were forced to take a few days to plan the task ahead.

When the roads did reopen, we were not like most other people who rushed in to clean up their homes. We paused, took a deep breath, planned our attack and then got on with it.

After the 2011 floods, a lot of personal effects, furniture and building structures were thrown out that perhaps could have been saved. By having a plan, we were in control of what was thrown out and what was cleaned and kept.

When most of our neighbours were nearing the end of their clean ups, we were just beginning. We cleaned one room first, then progressively worked through the house. Items that could be cleaned and saved were then placed in the clean room.

One person was allocated to the clean room. Two people were on clean up to wash personal effects that we wanted to save. The rest of the volunteers worked cleaning the inside and outside of the house. While we started cleaning up a few days after many other people, we finished around the same time.

We then had the luxury of allowing the house to sit empty for a couple of months to dry out before we began the repairs.

We are incredibly grateful for the help, assistance and donations that we received after the 2011 Brisbane floods. While we are still not in the same position we were in pre-flood, we are doing okay.

Good luck

Good luck to people who have been flooded in the 2013 floods. It is a long, hard road ahead.

Remember to prioritise your safety and relationships – you want your health and family around long after the floods are a distant memory.

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