I used to love the rains. From dancing in the balcony to watching it from the warmth of my living room, I enjoyed the wet weather.
When I moved overseas, it surprised me that people would pack up and head home at the first warning of storms. A well-meaning colleague had insisted I get myself an umbrella because it was impossible to survive Queensland summers without an umbrella. He warned me that summer here is actually called Storm Season.
My first summer was uneventful – hot and humid, sunny days dotted with incessant rains that bucketed without warning. I never understood people craving for the sun until I experienced it myself but that was it. Soon, I learnt to subscribe to the storm warning notifications by the weather bureau. I ignored it for the most part and secretly smirked when people rushed home, while I continued to work. I’d leave when the rain let up and everything was just fine. It’s only rain, people. Some of my Facebook friends, who loved the storms, posted photos.
Then, in the year 2011, The Floods happened. Touted as one of the top 10 deadliest floods in Australian history, it was traumatic to say the least.
I started off my morning, as usual, ignoring the storm warning message. Another storm, another day. I had to make sure I got to work before it started to pour. That was all I worried about. It wasn’t until I stepped out of my house and returned a friend’s call that I missed while in the shower that things started looking down. She asked me if I was okay and mentioned the storm. She sounded worried. My gut told me something was different this time. I ignored it and pushed on, arriving at the office half an hour later. Everyone was discussing the warning and “evacuation” in all seriousness. At that moment, warning bells went off in my head.
Just like that, I knew. I knew I had to go home and grab as many things as I could. I rushed home, with one other colleague, packed a couple of large suitcases and took it back to work with me. At the time, it hadn’t occurred to me to take what I needed most but I tried to pack as much as I could in 2 large suitcases. I figured I could just stay at work, in the worst case scenario that I couldn’t go back home. Before long, everyone was leaving and then staying in the office overnight didn’t seem like an appealing option anymore. I started to worry. Panic! What was I going to do? I’d barely managed to enlist one colleague to help me go home and pack my stuff. No one was going to offer me a place to crash in. Maybe they would’ve but I never asked.
I kept thinking how it might have been back in India. Somebody would’ve offered shelter. I’ve heard of people staying back at the office, so I wouldn’t have been the only one. So many options. No such thing was happening here so far, and I wasn’t sure what to do. Thankfully, a friend messaged me to ask if I was okay. I told her my plight and she suggested I go home with her. She said her husband could drive me back home when things settled. Little did we know then that going back home would be at least a week later. The storm ravaged South East Queensland, causing billions of dollars worth of damage to life and property.
I was badly shaken. This was stuff you read about in the papers and feel bad for other people. It tugged at your heart-strings but it never affected you deeply enough that you couldn’t turn off the telly and continue living your normal life. The night before this happened, I was glued to the news all evening, watching the devastation and feeling horrified. Even a little scared. I spoke to my best friend over the phone and mentioned my concern. He just laughed, so I decided that it would be okay. The locals here would know if the weather was going to get worse. He lived in a different city but I was sure he’d warn me if I had reason to worry. He merely said I was not to voice such baseless concerns to him unless it actually happened to me. In hindsight, it was not a nice thing to say but back then I chose to believe he might be right. The next morning, it happened to me.
Suddenly, I was alone and possibly without a place to live, for a while. The friend was too busy, this was just news to him and many others. The locals I knew were either prepared for such weather or unaffected enough to be concerned. My family back home worried until they heard I was safe. Then it was just news to them. Bad enough news to worry a teeny bit but they spoke to me everyday and knew I was okay. Physically, I was. Otherwise, I was a wreck. I was numb and lost, terrified and distressed beyond words.
I didn’t know how long it would be, before I went home or whether I could at all. It was almost certain that I had lost my rental unit to the floods. The entire city was a mess. Where would I find another rental? How many others would be like me? I had to continue to pay my rent, even if I couldn’t live there. How could I afford to pay the rent for 2 units, even if I did manage to find one? How long could I stay at my mate’s place? She was very kind but would soon tire of having a guest, who was devastated and pretty useless.
I had one friend who rang me every night and listened while I spoke freely about how I was feeling at the time. For a reason I couldn’t put my finger on, he was the only person I felt able to open up to. He was kind, he listened and occasionally, he responded with something that seemed appropriate… just what I needed to hear but also gave me a reality check rather than false hope. It was the only time, during those days, I felt just alive enough to converse with someone, felt connected to somebody. That 1 hour on the phone kept me grounded and helped me sleep every night. I would wake up at 4AM in the morning and looked blankly at the ceiling for a long time. I didn’t even know what things I was worried about that held such a cold grip over me and froze my abilities to do anything. Even talk to the friend I was living with.
From strangers on Twitter to acquaintances on Facebook, colleagues in the office, people offered support but it didn’t help. My family didn’t realize the magnitude of the situation. That didn’t help either. Four days later, after a mini adventure of sorts, I was able to visit my suburb and find that my house was saved. Only just. The flood had reached up to 2 houses before mine, which was halfway up the top of the hill. There was no power and I couldn’t still move back in but my house was safe! Relief washed over me. I spent the next day or two volunteering at the ravaged areas, helping people less fortunate than I. My friend’s husband dropped me off home a couple of days later, as promised. A few weeks later, I flew over to meet the family and when I returned a month later, the suburb was almost back to normal.
Then, life returned to normal. Not for many but I was one of the fortunate who could sort of say that. At least that’s what I believed until the next rains. The mention of rains would stress me out. I’d want to pack up and head home but I couldn’t be sure if home was safe either! Since then, I’ve been anxious every time it rained. An unexpected fear would grip me as soon as thunderstorms started. The SMS warning from the weather bureau made my heart skip a beat.
“How bad would it be?“, I’d wonder.
When I was 8 months pregnant, we had electrical storms in the city. It looked ominous. The thought of losing power scared me shitless. I didn’t even want to think of having to evacuate in my pregnant state. I’d made sure I move up a couple of floors when I looked for a rental unit, after my first flood experience when I lived in a lower ground level. With electrical storms, living on the 2nd floor of the apartment didn’t seem so safe anymore. It felt like Nature was mocking me. I could run but not escape.
Then the baby came and 2 summers just went by. I got too busy to remember the feelings rain brought on. I’d wondered how my toddler will handle the heat. Then, it rained one day and as I read the message, I felt a trifle concerned. I rang the husband. Having never discussed my fears with anyone, expect once in passing with him, I tried to put on a brave front. He was leaving work soon. R and I were on Skype with my mum, when R suddenly got excited. She was absolutely delighted by quick, fat raindrops splashing the little puddles in the balcony. It was her first experience of the rain and her joy was boundless. I was so preoccupied being her mom that I forgot my own feelings towards storms. The husband came home just before the rains caused flash flooding and the transport system was affected.
Another afternoon, without warning, there was a hailstorm. A fierce thunderstorm, with winds that got me worrying about my windows and flung things in my balcony. R got super-excited as usual. She didn’t ask to go out this time but she watched the rains, with her dad, enjoying the splash, swish, flash from behind the safety of the glass doors.
It was impossible not to feel the positive vibes. For the first time in 4 years, I took pictures and videos of the rain. In spite of some vague concerns at the back of my head regarding power cuts, dangerously swishing trees, flying debris, I wasn’t scared. I enjoyed the rain. I really did.
Before long, my Facebook wall was flooded with updates and photographs. Apparently, the unannounced storm had caused a fair bit of damage. Some schools announced closures, while pictures of uprooted trees, damaged cars, flooded roads, golf ball-sized hailstones fill up the newsreel. I felt bad but in a ‘it is news’ sort of way. It was a king-sized thunderstorm, windy and with poor visibility but I went through the experience like a normal person would. Without being crippled by fear.
I feel bad for those who suffered damage and sorry for people who are still trying to get home, hours later. However, the comfort in knowing that I’m okay, not just from the storm but mentally, is incredible.
“We need to prepare for the storm season”, I said to R’s dad.