Real advice on how to evacuate for a natural disaster
I always start to remember the floods at this time of year, as the storm season and Christmas period encroaches. Now with the potential fire danger looming with the unusual dry, warm/hot weather it made me review our evacuation plan. We didn't have one when the floods happened but we do now!
Before you read further, if have been impacted by a natural disaster, this article may trigger memories or emotions. Please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or by messaging www.lifeline.org.au/about-lifeline/contact-us if you feel distressed or need to talk to someone.
In January 2011, thousands of people were displaced, lost homes, businesses and tragically many lost their lives due to the Queensland wide / northern New South Wales floods and Cyclone Yasi. Earlier in 2017, floods again affected the Logan, Beenleigh, Gold Coast and northern New South Wales areas leaving a trail of destruction.
Over the years, Australia has also faced some of the most catastrophic fires in our history. You may have already been through a flood or another natural disaster. Or you may be like me, not a "local", not familiar with the extreme weather events for the area that you have just moved to, caught unawares. We did our research on our new area but the truth is we didn't know what we didn't know.
Here is our story of the living through the flood; what we packed, forgot (you may be surprised, we were!), what we learnt and what we would do differently.
Do you have an evacuation plan? What would you pack? Let me know if I have forgotten something!
Our Story My family and I evacuated at night on the eve of the Brisbane floods. We had been advised only hours before by professionals that we "wouldn't flood and did not need to evacuate". It soon became evident, however, that we needed to leave.
The car was full of everything we could carry for us, the kids and dogs. The roof racks were loaded with our camping gear, as at the time we were isolated and had nowhere to go.
Eventually, I managed to contact a friend whom I had met on the bus to and from work. To be honest, it was awkward asking for help, but I had no choice, we had nowhere to go.
We could not stay at their house as we had our dogs and they had two dogs, but we were fortunately able to stay with their daughter just up the road. What did we pack? What did we forget?
We packed most of the things listed, however there were a few things we forgot in the rush to leave. I have bolded things we forgot and placed in italics the items we discovered had a multiple purpose.
First aid kit - Bandaids, painkillers, antihistamines, Ventolin, stingoes, mosquito spray, rehydration tablets, Berocca, antiseptic, anti-nausea, anti-diarrhoea, eucalyptus oil, gloves, bandages, tape, vaseline, tweezers, thermometer, sunscreen and scissors
Mobile phone charger
External hard drive (back up computer before you go)
It was important not to forget our four legged family members and packed;
Bowls - food and water
Don't forget your pets! Food, medicine, bowls and leads are essential
What to do before you leave your home
Do not leave it too late to leave safely. Before leaving your home:
Call family and friends to let them know that you are leaving and where you are going. We assigned one main contact person who we asked to pass on information to others to avoid flattening the battery, important after we lost power. Stay connected by phone, SMS and social media if possible.
Check on your neighbours to see if they are ok, need help and where they are evacuating to. Pass on contact details.
Have an inventory of our household belongings with the cost per item.
Double check you have sentimental, irreplaceable items.
Lift items as high as possible as the water may not come up too high.
Leave your fridge and freezer door open, otherwise they float, become obstacles and go through walls like a wrecking ball.
If there is time, fill up water tanks, so they can be used to put out fires and will not float away in flood water.
Before you drive away, take a big deep breath. You may feel a range of emotions and doubt what you have packed and doubt your decision to leave. This is completely normal and breathing as simple as it sounds, helps.
What would we do differently if it happened again?
We would pack everything in our list and in bold! Particularly birth certificates and passports. We now have them all securely located in a handy "grab" folder!
If there is room and time, we would have packed the frozen food. It would have come in handy in the days after when we were isolated and cut off, particularly as we pooled supplies with others to see us through. Frozen peas and corn also double as an ice pack for first aid!
Lesson learnt! Our grab bag now has passports, birth and marriage certificates, important documents etc
The clean up
You may feel impatient to return to see if your property is affected, but wait until you are advised that is safe to return. There were a lot of hazards after we flooded including broken asbestos, glass and displaced snakes!
Gumboots or closed covered shoes are essential for flood clean up. Our toilet had come off the wall and disengaged, so who knows what was floating around. As such, disinfectant and gloves are a great idea!
In our area the mud army came into its own and with our friends and neighbours showed me the power of community and generosity. I will always be thankful and admire their work.
One memory that sticks in my mind is the local families walking by with plates of home cooked food for people affected and the volunteers. It was moving.
The pace of activity during the cleanup was frenetic. With the confluence of shock, chaos and an unreal experience it was easy to make mistakes in the rush to make a decision.
People who are trying to help may push you for an urgent decision, but give yourself the time and opportunity to consider before you reply. We still regret losing some things that were thrown away as a result of haste. Bedding, clothes, toys and wedding dresses can be hand washed and then dry cleaned.
How you may feel afterwards It is natural to feel a range of emotions after evacuating for a disaster, irrespective of whether you are directly affected in its aftermath.
People may go through the grieving cycle, starting with shock, denial, anger, blame before accepting what has occurred. This may take months, years or remain unresolved and present as depression and/or anxiety later.
People who return to their homes and find their belongings and homes intact may feel survivor's guilt. They may wonder why they were "unscathed" or "survived" and their friends, family or neighbours lost belongings, homes or loved ones. People who return to their homes and find a trail of destruction may feel shock, despair, denial and anger. The depth of emotion will vary between individuals.
There is no "right" feeling, no standard response or length of time taken to heal following such an event. Find a close friend or family member to talk to about your experience and how you feel. You are not alone.
What support services are there?
Community services may set up in or around the areas requiring help at the time and provide helpful information about financial relief and counselling services. In addition, the following are useful:
Call your insurer to find out what support is offered through your insurance relating to temporary accommodation etc.
Many of our friends and family donated to the "Qld Premier's Relief fund" to avoid the embarrassment of donating directly to us. Whilst this is understandable, the result was less than ideal for us as bureaucracy set in and we didn't receive a cent of it. If people offer to help, don't be afraid to accept
Tips for kids
Natural disasters and other traumas impact kids profoundly and their reaction will vary from shock, denial, anger to appearing indifferent and nonchalant.
Their ability to express emotion will be in part determined by their age and how open you are to talking to them about it. This can be tricky when you may have a rollercoaster emotions yourself!
Trauma may result in nightmares, separation anxiety, anxiety with weather (ie future rain), regression (toilet training, bed wetting etc) and may present as extreme behaviour. Reassure, let them talk about their feelings and seek professional help if needed.
It may also help if you find others in your area with similar aged children and form a playgroup or support group to help. We found that people who had been through the flood had a deeper level of understanding and we were able to support each other.
Try to keep routine as consistent as possible, as kids will thrive on the structure during a period of uncertainty and trauma. This is particularly so when you are in your evacuation shelter and then temporary accommodation before you rebuild.
There are a couple of great books written about the Brisbane Floods by Nana Ryll and Jackie French. My kids particularly like the Nana Ryll book called "Friends of the Flood: An Australian Story." The story is told using animals and helps them to talk and explore their experiences without it being too confronting.
What an amazing and moving article. I'm so sorry you had to experience that, but I really appreciate that you have used it to provide helpful advice for coping wuth future natural disasters. Thank you.