Biographical Non-Fiction posted July 5, 2022

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What happened


by Wendy G

I live only twenty minutes from the Evacuation Centre. My co-worker, Jim, lives about forty minutes away.

This was the first time I had worked with Jim, a brilliant retired University lecturer and Dean of Science and Maths. Jim would probably be in his eighties, or very close.

Jim and I were scheduled to begin our shift at 8 am. I did not know he would be coming by public transport.  He told me he was no longer able to drive – his vision was not very good, and he had hearing problems. He'd had a quadruple by-pass a few years ago.

However, his heart is a heart of gold. I was humbled to work alongside him, amazed at his desire to go out of his way to "love his neighbour", not just rest in the warmth and security of his own home.

Jim left home at 4 a.m. He had to catch a bus to the station, then a train, then switch lines to another train, then walk – in the rain. At the first station he found that the trains could not run because of a fallen tree across the lines. Buses were substituted, but did not stop where he needed, so Jim had to go further, then catch another train back to the second train station.

Here he found that the trains were not running either. Floodwaters had cut the railway line. Another bus. It took him a little over four hours to get to the Centre! I promised to drive him home. At first he refused, because it was out of my way! I insisted.

He counted all his experiences as one big adventure, and nothing upset this gentle man. Several people who came into the Centre remembered Jim from the last emergency - simply because of his quiet caring manner!

So what did we do all day? Our first concern was to check the well-being of those who had stayed overnight, including two pet dogs. We worked alongside the Red Cross, and Social Services, whose role was to organise accommodation, and they did this extremely well.

Temporary accommodation had already been found for some overnighters, who soon departed. It was harder to find places for the ones with dogs. (Yes, we had a supply of both dog and cat food, given by generous donors.)

One of the dogs, a fifteen year old, bit me, not badly thankfully. His owner apologised profusely, saying that he always bites everyone. I understood. He was old and tired, nearing his end. He already had a disposition to biting, and then this occurs – he has no understanding of what is happening in his world, and is probably quite traumatised himself! He was probably just trying to defend and protect the space around his owner. The other dog, Bernard, was a joy, and reminded me of Sunny with his exuberant friendliness.

We organised tea or coffee, or meals for new arrivals, and simply sat and listened to their stories. So many had been impacted badly by the floods earlier this year, and actually had very little to lose this time, apart from their temporary accommodation. Their stories were heart-breaking.

Many were afraid that they would not be able to get to work, usually humble jobs, if they were to be housed in another area. The sad reality is that their workplaces may well have been destroyed or badly damaged by the flood waters. These people were not trying to receive government handouts.

We had crates of donated items, from toiletries and socks to umbrellas, towels and pillows, as well as food items. Each recipient took only what was necessary for their essential and immediate needs, always mindful of others who would follow. I was impressed at their restraint and consideration.

What else did we do? I set out stretcher beds – with pillows and blankets – in a side room for the couple who had been awake all night, watching and worrying until they knew they had to leave their home. They were so appreciative of being warm and dry, safe and cared for. Such a simple thing.

I talked to a crying little girl who could not be calmed by her mother and she responded so well. I am used to four-year olds, five of my seven grandchildren having been there! I kept the younger brother amused and calm as well. The poor mother had spent a lot of the night putting their belongings on top of wardrobes and kitchen cupboards. She was bone weary.

One young woman did not tell us about her cancer. Her boyfriend and carer told me. She was unable to have her tumour removed until she had a stable home situation to return to for recovery. She had just got a "stable home" after the last floods, and that one was now also gone. How long would she wait? Who knows?

I made a list of extra supplies our replacement volunteers would need, anticipating a further influx over the next few days. I tried to help a couple of people to download the "Floods near me" app on their phones so that they could access up-to-date information – but their phones were too old. These people did not have much, and could not afford a newer model. Yet another reminder to me to have a spirit of gratitude and thankfulness for what I have, and often take for granted.

There was nothing too demanding to do. In many ways the day was quite ordinary, apart from checking for flood updates, and what roads were now cut. Jim and I offered a listening ear. There was an atmosphere of comfort and cheer in the Centre, and gradually the spirit of anxiety and fear which tends to float at such times, seemed to dissipate. As one victim said, "It's just good to know some-one cares".

So this is not an exciting story. There were no dramas. There is no surprising ending. I just wrote to raise awareness of what little things a very ordinary person can do to help another. It's very easy.

Jim and I don't want or need thanks or praise. But please try to do some small act of kindness towards anyone you meet who may be facing a tough situation. It will make a huge difference to that person, "just to know some-one cares".

Our replacement arrived, and I drove Jim home. Once again, thankful. This time I was thankful that I could still drive, had sufficiently good vision, and a reliable car.

I will be at a different Evac Centre on Thursday, closer to home. If you are a praying person, I would value your prayers for what is still unfolding, and is predicted to be the worst flood on record.



Note: A major flood is defined as flood waters over 12 metres (about 40 feet) above normal levels. At present, the waters are well over 14 metres deep (46 to 50 feet!)
In this photo the steps lead down to a walking path several metres below where the water is. And the walking path is at least six or seven metres above normal river levels.

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