Weathering the storm

Every step of the way was a battle

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Transcript

I’ve never felt or heard or seen the lightning so continuously, so close and so continuously, and you think it's you. You think it's just you. You think it must be just over my house.

Penny

At that point there was no news coming through. I did have the TV on but there was nothing on the news about the storm or if there was, I have no memory of that. I thought it was me in this little microcosm of the storm happening just outside my own house.

Terri-Ann

I was woken up by my husband who came home just after midnight and said that there was a bit of rain around outside and that we had to maybe grab a few towels in case some water came in under the door. In the 10 minutes it got me to, to rouse myself and go find some rags, the water had risen to about 30 centimetres up our glass windows. And then within another 10 minutes or so about a metre.

Penny

My husband had gone out and the rain had started and it seemed at about 9 o'clock as if the sky had just opened up. And he wasn't far away. He was actually at the top of Jindabyne Road at his choir and I didn't even like the idea of him driving home. I sent him a text message to say, “Are you getting out earlier?” You know I couldn't believe that they didn't know and didn't come home earlier. I was sitting in my house and it felt–which I've always felt totally secure in–but it felt that all of the weather was hitting the side of the house where I was sitting. So I was up and down into the other end of the house and back to that end to the house. I thought I have to keep the TV on because the noise was so terrifying, and it got worse and worse. And then he came in the door at about ten o'clock and he was wide eyed and saying, “I've driven from the top of Jindabyne road. What is it, two minutes? And I could hardly see a thing.”

Terri-Ann

We live in a house that has a lot of glass. So we were actually quite frightened that that glass–because it's a 1970s architectural home we're in–that the plate glass was actually going to shatter. So that added another element of fear I suppose and danger with the situation that was happening.

When the water rose very quickly up against the glass and we could actually see things floating in the water against the glass, we were like you know–quite like an aquarium actually–quite frightened, because we have children as well and we have a lot of power switches down low. So we were running around trying to turn power off, but it was a little bit of a moment of confusion because then we realised well something's going to happen pretty quickly, and what are we going to save?

Penny

We were both very alarmed. We went to bed at about 11:00 PM but it was impossible to even settle. And so at about–oh I think about 11:30 PM–we've got a house with a downstairs–I said, “We have to go down because the house is going to explode” and we had a large tree outside. And I just thought that tree would fall on us. So my imagination obviously was filling in all of the spaces that the storm wasn't. So we moved downstairs to the downstairs bedroom which was–it should have been really quiet–but it always has been–but it felt even more weird. So we did both go to sleep at about midnight but then at 2:00 AM the sound changed and I just sprang from my bed.

I woke up my husband and said, “What, what is this? What's happening?” because the storm wind had reached a ferocity that was bizarre and we couldn't tell what that sound was. Actually I thought by then the sound was huge.

Terri-Ann

We were quite concerned how much the water was going to rise because our courtyard filled up like a swimming pool. And that's, that's why we actually had a metre of water virtually within 15 minutes which is quite a rapid rise of water. Our priority was then–because there would be glass shattering–that we had to get the children out. So we called on our neighbours. And they came up, picked up the children, and waded through the water–very fast flowing water–to get them to the safety of their house which was really kind of them. And then my husband and I really went around very quickly, lifted as many pieces of furniture or things we could grab off the ground, and put them back up.

Penny

People always say that a storm sounds like a freight train overhead and–you know–but in fact, never having been under a freight train that was a really good description, and I thought then the tree had fallen on the top of the house and I wasn't going to get out of bed. I thought all we can do is we are alive, we're both alive, and it's a concrete slab above us and hopefully it doesn't fall down. But we stayed there. We stayed there.

Terri-Ann

Our fear was that the plate glass–and that's, I mean that whole wall there was like huge–so I'm, I'm talking about metres and metres of, of glass–that we were just waiting for it to break at any time. Any doorway, the water was just spurting in. So when you see those movies when there's water breaching and that's–it came through every–and we've got quite a few doors and also around the side of the house as well. So any, anywhere there was a weakness, the water started to flow through. So the water came into the house and then went through every room until it got down to the bottom because we're split level. So it cascaded over the split level and had to find an outlet as water tends to do when it's flowing. And that happened to be right at the bottom of the house. So water went through every room to get to it. And there's nothing we could do. I think that's the futility of it as well. You stand there and you go, “Oh can we pad something up?” and just the power of the water coming through that was impossible. We do not know to this day how all the glass in our house didn't break.

Penny

And then the next morning, he woke me at six o’clock and said–or something like that–it was still well and truly dark, “get up, come on”. And when we went upstairs, we just found the house–half the house–awash.

It was bizarre and we couldn't quite work–you know we still were in shock. How did this water get into our house? And then we opened the front door and we looked and–we've got a sort of slightly sunken porch I'd say, with a driveway and a large driveway coming down to our front door–and we looked and the water had pooled at some point during the night to 40 centimetres above the door. So the drain that’s always worked for 30 years had obviously blocked. We had no idea how that could have happened because it's never ever, ever blocked before. And then–so the door was just holding back this deluge.

Terri-Ann

It was just totally unexpected, and the event in itself was something that we will remember because it was something we were quite not prepared for in any way. But it was actually the aftermath for us that actually caused us the most stress.

So we were displaced that whole time. We made our own arrangements for that because there was no funding for us. So we, we had a family friend that allowed us to, to live in their home and–very very kind of them–but that was a long time for us to be displaced and for us to be in their home. Like I had my children sleeping on the floors for months–so from May to Christmas, where we moved in three days before Christmas. And we weren't alone. I know that. We've talked to lots of lots of people.

Penny

In the night when I thought the tree was going to fall, I thought our lives were in danger. In the night when I went downstairs–the reason we chose to move downstairs was I thought our lives were probably in danger. We made that choice out of self-protection but it wasn't–I don't think I was on the edge of danger as I did find out about another couple of people in the next couple of days as the stories unfolded, so I know we got out lightly. And I'm incredibly grateful for that because I know the impact that it had for months afterwards and how if you had a greater experience, how the recovery has got to be really much, much more difficult, and I know there's people whose houses still haven't been fixed.

It took five months to fix our house. And every step of the way was a battle. And that was exhausting. So if people are still out there waiting for their house to be fixed they must be just completely compromised I would think inside themselves.

Terri-Ann

We actually had some quite overwhelming feelings of gratitude to our friends, especially our friends who woke up in the middle of the night to come and take the children away, put socks on them, clothe them, wrap them in blankets because they were a bit disorientated as well, allowing us to stay with them for a while until we found some other accommodation, supporting us looking after the kids while we were up doing things in that first couple of days. I put a call out to my boss who lives close by to say that I wouldn't be able to go to work on that first day back because we were cleaning mud and everything out and I turned around and he was there. He came down and he helped scrape gutters and things out and we had other friends turn up to move plants and trees away. So yes we had and I had other friends turn up with meals in those first couple of weeks. So yes we've been very blessed with, with our close knit friends. Very much so.

We’ve moved back in into the home and there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. You know we, we go on these journeys. There's always, there was always, there's always a destination at the end.

Penny

You feel you're invincible you know. You are invincible, you can fix anything. But if actually that sort of storm is there you can't. We have to, we have to weather it. Actually that term is exactly what you have to do. You can't stop it, you can't fix it, you just weather it, and I guess I haven't thought about this before, but I guess when you look at any weathered rock or any weathered tree, that's what's happened to us. We're now weathered. We've torn some strips off.