On a journey through northern New South Wales and southern Queensland, Warren Murray meets locals contending with the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie [img]'https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/8eb66c9308b558eeeb431a310d78d6e4bbd116da/21_0_1558_935/master/1558.jpg?w=1200&h=630&q=55&auto=format&usm=12&fit=crop&crop=faces%2Centropy&bm=normal&ba=bottom%2Cleft&blend64=aHR0cHM6Ly91cGxvYWRzLmd1aW0uY28udWsvMjAxNi8wNS8yNS9vdmVybGF5LWxvZ28tMTIwMC05MF9vcHQucG5n&s=c2dd80ea7e94205ff1ab5bb54ba9b231' Light to moderate traffic is easing along the Pacific motorway connecting the Gold Coast and the Tweed, with no particular sign of storm damage or delays. But in Chinderah, just inside New South Wales and just off the highway, John Anderson is in full-tilt disaster recovery mode, contending with the aftermath of the flooding rains that ex-cyclone Debbie sent south. At the Gateway Lifestyle Tweed Shores over-50s community, in between dealing with a stream of tradies coming in and out the office door Righto mate, do what youve gotta do, well pay for it Anderson describes how last week the water went through probably 140 cabin-style homes in this complex that he manages. On Thursday the tide met the downstream flooding and we were inundated with a metre, metre and a half of water not a flood, but slowly rising water. By Friday afternoon evacuation was well under way for those residents happy to go. Gas bottles ripped off their moorings, leaking gas, electricity in residences filled with salt water, Anderson recalls. By 10 oclock Saturday night the park was basically isolated and only accessible by rubber ducky. He and his wife, Beth, opted to stay and keep an eye on things, sleeping on foam mattresses on the upper level of their manufactured home, with water swilling around on the floor below, until they could get out and about to assess the damage. Days later, theres still so much to be done before things even faintly resemble normality. A jotting on the desk blotter says Copper gas line missing gone. Andersons mobile rings and flashes up the caller details: Shade Sail Andrew. Out front of the park is a pile of ruined possessions that stretches for maybe 100 metres down the road. It represents in a lot of cases everything that people own, or did own. The villas are about 85% privately owned, 15% rented. Some people are insured, a lot are not because of the cost, being flood-prone. Anderson lauds a magnificent response from the community, individuals who are pitching in to help out. The ladies from nearby Cudgen public school have been turning up with hot food, and in the top bit of the Gateway park where the water couldnt reach we had ladies there cooking sausage rolls and bringing them round. Just the most magnificent response.
[img]https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/697f2b7f7d23fbaae53d4a20d39569eaaacbf2a6/0_0_4752_2851/master/4752.jpg?w=300&q=55&auto=format&usm=12&fit=max&s=bdfe662720f0e4f2d13e50c488359329 John Anderson, manager of the Gateway residential complex, with ruined belongings piled along the roadside waiting for collection. Photograph: Warren Murray for the Guardian Good over-the-road mates, they have both been badly hit I lost my ute, lots of white goods, it was about seven feet deep through here on Friday but have turned away from their own troubles to help others. Nah, well be right, says Percy. The tip-truck went under but once the water receded Ben just changed all the oils and got it going. Well do this load and then head further up the street. The words and phrases that come out at these times like resilience and community spirit can sound like cliches until you walk into the sort of situation that gives rise to them. Two ancient pinball machines sit outside a neighbours place waiting for disposal. In their heyday, Duotron and Firepower cost you 20 cents a go. The owner bustles back and forth clearing up, not wanting to be photographed. Hes had enough, says Percy. Here for 18 years. Hes leaving. Had enough of the floods. Three quarters of an hour after I arrived, the grim task down by the riverside is more or less done. The bodies have been removed and a crane waits to fish out the still-sunken family car. For a while this site has been the focus of the east coast flood story. Now the cameras will swing north to Rockhampton, where the Fitzroy river is approaching its flood peak. Everyone in Tumbulgum has been at it for days cleaning up. But it looks like they have only just started. It smells like a muddy cattleyard from my country boyhood. Leaving town theres a hedgerow of household debris tangled in trees along the riverbank. On the road towards Murwillumbah, through Condong, the same scene repeats itself over and over. Flood-ravaged sugarcane paddocks, pile after roadside pile of everything from barbecues to microwaves to baby strollers to chests of drawers and other buggered stuff. It is like an endless waterlogged forlorn jumble sale. Where will the council ever bury it all? The makeshift sign in bedraggled Condong is a bit more firm than the one in Tumbulgum. No tourists please. Help welcome. Understandable in the circumstances.
[img]https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/ea4435e10e9d84d8c8f7c94dad50162819310968/0_0_4752_3168/master/4752.jpg?w=300&q=55&auto=format&usm=12&fit=max&s=02f890ec7555122f458a10a92ee3672e Two pinball machines that finally met their match when the swollen Tweed river flooded into Tumbulgum. Photograph: Warren Murray for the Guardian Things arent fantastic further west in the Scenic Rim country either. Beaudeserts state MP, Jon Krause, has been on ABC 612 radio reminding us that rural communities are likewise dealing with the effects of this natural disaster. Crops have been lost and ruined paddocks will take a lot of work to rehabilitate before they can be planted again. Pretty soon Im back in suburban Nerang and not far from home. Theres the odd tree lying on the ground here and there, whipped down in the high winds of the previous days, roots having given up their grip on the soaked ground. Wed already had more than a week of downpours when the remnants of Debbie arrived and upped the tempo. In the park across the road from my house a council crew is mucking out the kids sandpit. But thats about as devastated as it gets round here. The park is part of the local stormwater drainage system, and when the rain arrives the boogie boards come out. Last year we put on a new roof on our late 70s, early 80s brick-veneer bungalow, and consequently had to follow the 21st-century regulations. That meant threading steel cyclone rods down through the walls, tying the roof to the concrete slab foundation. Many of the houses around us in this brick-and-tile suburb are of a similar era, but still have their original roofs. Which means they dont have those rods. This time around the winds were less than cyclonic. If more of north Queenslands most extreme weather comes south in future years as feared, we may see those structures tested. To the north, the south and the west of us, there are thousands of people dealing with such consequences in the here and now.