Preparing for the unexpected

17 January 2011
This time last Monday everything was wet, it had been raining for days, but no one could have foreseen the events that were about to unfold in Toowoomba and many small towns to the east of it.  We live about two hours from Toowoomba and I've been there many times.  I never thought I'd ever see the scenes of the city centre that I saw on TV last Monday, just after a "flash flood, "an inland tsunami" "a wall of water" hit.  Call it what you will, it's been described as all of those, but what happened was something that we all thought could never happen.  Not here, not in Queensland.

There were many heartbreaking stories but the one that stays with me is that of an elderly couple who stood under trees, leaning on the front gate, with their home in the background, being interviewed by a TV reporter.  They were smiling and joking about having the flood water up to their knees.  They were wet but they were fine.  The reporter went back later to find them and there was nothing left.  No trees, no front gate, no house and no people.  Nothing.  It was like they'd never been there.

Last Monday started just like every other wet day for those people in Toowoomba, Grantham and Murphy's Creek, they didn't know their lives would change or end that day.  They couldn't have been prepared for such a catastrophe. No matter how much time they had, no amount of first aid equipment or safety gear would have protected them nor saved their lives. The only thing to help would have been to get out of there but no one knew, until it happened, that the water would sweep away all in its path.

The floods in Ipswich and Brisbane were another matter.  Those people were warned the floods were coming and many prepared for what they thought might come.  Nevertheless, the damage was so wide spread and absolute, it too just took your breath away to watch it unfold.  And when the waters drained off to reveal the oozing muddy damage in thousands of homes, shops and schools, and it all looked hopeless, people started to make it right again.  Lead by our PremierAnna Bligh, the SES, police and military personnel, the rescues and the cleanup started. Ordinary people who felt so helpless watching the waters rise and fall, formed into huge teams of cleaners, cooks and nurturers, and armed with buckets, brooms, mops, rakes, shovels, BBQs, sausages, bread and cups of tea took action and started cleaning up and feeding people they'd never met before. When they called for volunteers to help, they hoped for 5000, but well over 20,000 turned up ready to work in the stinking mud.  They were reaching out to fellow Australians and it didn't matter that they didn't know them, it only mattered that they needed help NOW.  There are many cliches tossed about these days about the Aussie spirit and what it means to be an Australian, but to all those who think it means us winning at cricket or being the best swimmers, I reckon you just have to look at what happened in the aftermath of Brisbane to know what it really means.  

So what can we take from this?  I think that it's essential to be as prepared for a disaster as you can be.  Nothing will help in certain types of disaster, like Toowoomba or 9/11 - they are too catastrophic and unexpected. In other circumstances, preparations that are well thought out and tailored to suit each different family situation, will help, there is no doubt about it.  If there are children in your family, it's also wise to practise evacuation plans and to tell children where they should go and who they should call if they're separated from the family in an emergency.  Work out, well before time, what you'll take with you if you must leave your home, plan where it is you'll go and when the time comes, go early, don't hang around thinking you might be able to stay. There are hundreds of sites that will give you ideas for your own particular emergency plan and how to prepare your family for a disaster, the job you have is to convince yourself that you need to act on this now and to customise the generic "do this" plan to your circumstances.  And I am talking to everyone who reads this, not only Australians.  The unexpected, the unthinkable and the unspeakable do happen.

If you are living a simple life, this is part of it.  Being prepared to look after yourself and your family in a emergency is another way of being self-reliant.  If you can safely stay in your home, with enough water and food for your family and any neighbours who need your help, then not only are you being true to your values, you're also allowing emergency personnel to get on with the rescue of those who need their help.  But the difficult thing here is to convince everyone they need an emergency plan, even when they think something like last Monday could never happen to them.

Little Jenny Wren's Flood Relief Raffle  Jenny is doing her bit to help with this sweet and kind gesture.

Dixiebelle's Be Prepared Challenge.


  1. Thank you for the words of wisdom, and it's so good to know that you are alright! Hugs, Kayli

  2. Rhonda, I'm a Toowoomba resident, and I could not agree more about being prepared. People were freaking out when they could not access milk and bread. We were very blessed not to lose our power at all, but the town ran out of just about everything in the panic buying frenzy. I always keep heaps of uht milk in my cupboard and I bake my own bread so we were fine. I think the biggest problem in today's society that we are too spoilt with all the convenience food, so people had no idea what to do when they couldn't do what they always do.....a lot of people had no idea how to survive out of their cupboard.
    The whole reason that I was able to be completely fine and do what I always do, is because of you and your blog. I used to be the convenience food queen....but once I started reading your blog I have completely changed for the better. Thank you so much Rhonda, I would not have known what to do if it hadn't been for you!!

  3. Good Morning Rhonda Jean,
    Just before the earthquake hit here in Christchurch, the children and I had done a study on what to do in an emergency and had drafted out a plan of how to connect if we were scattered all over the place in the city when a disaster hit and cellphones were down (as they were even after our earthquake). We had a main meeting place in the city - a spot that everyone knows and is easy to reach (actually a Macdonalds restaurant - I thought they'd remember that)! And then to get to a friend's house on the outskirts of the city heading towards our place. It was actually a really good study for the children and gave them a sense of power I think - especially after the earthquake when they realised that things like that can happen. Fortunately we were all together at the time.
    I have a good friend in Brisbane who made it onto the tv when she and her husband and three little children were going around helping people move things to higher ground. She was fortunate in that her house is on a hill, so was not affected. Glad that you and Hanno are safe and dry, too.
    Have a great day.
    Rachel from NZ

  4. Dear Rhonda, Thanks for writing about this. As I've seen the pictures/stories on the news here in the States, my heart really goes out to the people there!! ..and thank God for those that are helping their fellow person in need!!! It reminds me of Hurricane Katrina, the floods in Tennessee...etc. It's important to be prepared and not to underestimate the power of nature!!! Do you recommend any links with good emergency preparedness tips? I'll continue to pray for your country!!! Love and hugs to you and your family from Oregon, Heather :)

  5. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who has been affected by this tradegy/disaster. Last week I attended a earthquake/tsunami awareness meeting (living on the southern Oregon coast in the United States, it's a matter of when, not if. I was already aware and prepared in a lot of ways, but have deciced to step it up in my preparations. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Dear Rhonda, I am so happy to read this posting today, that you and Hanno are alright.
    My husband and I have discussed this many times..Living Simple is just the beginning of being self sustainable, learning survival skills would be next...
    to you and yours
    From Michigan

  7. Watching all of this unfold I cannot fathom the hardships that so many people have endured and still are. Many lessons will be learned but you are very good to point out the importance of being prepared.

  8. Rhonda, I am very glad you are OK, and my prayers for all the good people of Queensland who have been affected.

    AM of the bread

  9. Thanks for sharing some of what happened in Australia during the recent floods. I have no TV connection and only saw a bit on the internet. Your recollection gave me goose bumps .. and a deep feeling of pride for the way the Aussies came together to start the clean up process. My heartfelt prayers go out to those that lost everything .. including loved ones.

  10. A great post Rhonda. We should all be prepared for the worst, especially those of us with kids! My only issue with all of the coverage of this disaster here in Australia, is the use of 'Aussie spirit'. To me, it's human spirit. We saw it in the boxing day tsunamis, hurricane Katrina, Haiti earthquakes etc. We humans will always feel compassion to help our fellow man (exceptions of course!) and the spirit to pull through whatever gets thrown at us! I must say too, after comment number 2, I might check my uht milk supply :)

  11. Dear Rhonda and Hanno,
    I watched the news and saw the tragic events unfold in Australia. I was never sure where abouts you lived but every time I watched I hoped you were always safe and well just like you were a dear friend that I spoke to every day. It is so true about being prepared for events like this and at least having a plan in place, should the worst happen. you can never be too prepared.

    I am so glad you are ok.
    Rachael (England)

  12. I have a (4th?) cousin near Toowoomba, but I was relieved to find out that he and his family were fine. Not so the people and the townships in the way of this dreadful inland tsunami. He forwarded me an e-mail written by one of his work colleagues, who had set up an internet cafe in her garage so that refugees could get messages out to family and friends via email and Facebook. Her words were heart-wrenching, especially when she said she never realized that there could be degrees of "we have lost everything" . . .

    There is nothing you can do in the face of such catastrophic flooding, if your neighbourhood is swept away, but you are certainly right about us being prepared for the unexpected. We always have a couple of weeks' food in store, plus full freezers (fat lot of use those would be if the power went though), and things like candles, oil lamps, matches etc. I think I need to keep a few steps further ahead . . . just in case.

  13. Good post Rhonda.
    My DH's niece and her family live on higher ground outside of Brisbane and they are currently part of the bucket and spade brigade. They are amazed at the out of area volunteers who turn up by the busload and also very grateful for the help in getting their capital city to rights quickly.
    This is a valuable link off the Qld flood relief site
    My apologies if it has been posted here previously but it is a good starting point for making sure you have essentials during a natural disaster and to ensure that valuable papers are available to help speed the recovery and rebuilding etc. I've already started sorting and collecting because though we live on a high hill above a permanent creek, some of our neighbours could be in a danger zone.

  14. Thanks Robyn, I'll add that to the post.

  15. Rhonda
    I watched a video of Brisbane and the clean up going on there. It was amazing. Everyone had their buckets, shovels, brooms, whatever they had in their homes and they were there working hard to clean up after they signed in. I also noticed that this very large group of people were thin and appeared fit. It bothers me so that we as Americans are to heavy and it ruins our health before we know it. I am wondering if most people there eat a lot of veggies, chicken, and eggs. Maybe you can tell me? Thanks for all you do to help us learn new ways.

  16. Great post Rhonda. Living out in the country I'm always prepared with my stockpile and emergency box etc.
    This post is a timely reminder to check my emergency box and update any details. Thank you. Maa.

  17. As usual, a beautifully eloquent post Rhonda!

  18. Wonderful post, very inspiring! I have linked to it in the first of our Be Prepared Challenge posts. Thank you for helping me get started on this journey too...

  19. My heart goes out to everyone affected by the flooding. I lost everything...home, possessions and my job in the flooding of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, so I know the heartbreak.

    Mother Nature is a powerful force.

  20. Heart-warming post, Rhonda. Thank you for sharing. My hubby's folks and family are okay, I'm glad you and Hanno are too(Lovely Qld folk are inour hearts and prayers:)!


  21. Hello everyone! Dixiebelle, I've added your challenge to the post too.

  22. I live in New Orleans and after the flood we had the same show of human spirit and endurance you are talking about. People moved here specifically to help. Our family was one of them. My husband spent almost every weekend working on somebody else's house, rallying for more support for rebuilding this city. And it went on for months and months; years even. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen - the unselfish, enduring human spirit.


    This link is to emergency information from The Weather Channel on Foxtel. As I've been watching weather updates during the Flood Emergencies in all states of Australia in the past month (yes Qld, NSW, Vic, Tas, SA & WA have all had floods to different degrees as well as cyclones, bushfires and storms) there has been emergency information telecast. So I thought I would share the link to their page. There were organisations mentioned that I wouldn't have thought of.


  24. This post has got me thinking about preparing for the next earthquake in San Diego, especially the bit you said about being prepared to help you and your neighbors so the authorities can move on to help the next person!

  25. Hi Rhonda,

    Can I just mention that Woolworths Stores are collecting donation for the Salvos Flood Appeal and will give a dollar for every dollar donated through their stores. That means if $20 is donated Woolworths will also donate $20 which means the donation becomes $40. This will be affective only till this Thursday 20th Jan, as far as I know, but please check as I'm not 100% sure of the cut off date.

    Blessings Gail

  26. This time around, my region did not flood badly. My access to town was cut off for a day but in past floods it has been for longer. Because we live in a flood prone area we always have enough supplies for our own family but this flood disaster and the need for neighbours to help one another out has me thinking. I am blessed to live on higher ground - in the event of a major flood disaster if we had to take people into our home and feed them we would not have enough food. I want to be in a position to help others if I needed to, so I'm going to set up a separate emergency pantry, had one for Y2K complete with emergency backpacks packed with individual supplies, water bottles, torches, personal documents in waterproof cases etc, hanging on the inside door to grab and run. I'm going to reinstate those too - it would be a bushfire that would give us cause to evacuate. Cannot be too complacent there even after all this rain.
    Another common thread I picked up on during the coverage was 'materialism''It's just materialism' was one guy's words. He was just glad that he and his family were safe and they were not fretting over what they had lost. Perhaps this will be the start of a simpler life for some of those who must start over. Expect more readers I would say - your blog will be most useful to all reassigning their priorities and/or improving their preparedness.

  27. thanks for sharing news. it's so different and so real when you read about such things in a blog instead of just hearing the news from the media.

    and thanks a lot for the idea of an emergency plan. I had never thought of it before, at least not in details. but you are right. nobody knows what might happen.

    love from Italy.

  28. Rhonda

    Preparedness is the key word.

    In most instances, if one has light ( candles / storm lamps), access to ANY water and a (portable) means of cleaning / filtering it, as well as a supply of preserved / dried goods (in sealed containers) and an alternative method of cooking (i.e. a solar cooker - which won't help whilst it is still raining, but certainly will once the sun comes out and the flood waters still linger) - then one should be able to handle the emergency.

    I have cooked most (95%) of our meals via my solar oven this summer (the balance of the meals have been cooked on the barbeque), and I am currently compiling a cookbook of solar recipes. I have found there is a dearth of recipes on the Net which give full instructions - e.g. those that are available state, "place in solar oven" but do not speicify for how long.

    Being able to drink clean water, cook stored / preserved food and sleep with a full tummy helps one cope when one's body is exposed to very stressful times.

    My thoughts and prayers are with everyone who is affected by the floods in both yours and my country.

  29. great post Rhonda, as you know us northsiders were for the most part unscathed (except those in and around the caboolture area) we luckily were safe and relatively dry... Although the rains on Monday wreaked a bit of havoc.

    Anyhow just wanted to say, it was thanks to you that we continued to have fresh bread thru the week As I had the forsight the previous week to pick up a box of ready to make bread (thinking it would come in handy for a rainy day) as well as making sure I had all the supplies on hand to make your simple white bread loaf if absolutely needed. had you not shared that recipe, I am sure like the rest of Qld we too would have suffered with the low bread supply. So thankyou!
    Unfortunately I cant say the same about my vege supply, the garden is somewhat waterlogged, but ready for some TLC

  30. Dear Rhonda,

    thank you so much for this post.
    Here in Holland, we heard about the floods, but just for a day or two. Especially your words about the people of Toowoomba and all the great help of the Australian people... it realy hit my heart.

    Your last words: "If you are living a simple life" hit me also. We dó try to live simply, a little more each day, but we didn't think of this one. O yes, we do have a servivalkit as a radio on batteries, the batteries, flashlights and tape to seal of the windows, but no.. we didn't think of the grocerys. Thank you for another little wake up call.

    Love from Holland,

  31. This is a heartbreaking event, just heartbreaking! But goodness it is such a huge reminder that preparedness is an enormously huge priority on the task list.

    Preparedness has been on my mind, the forefront of my mind, for quite sometime. I have to admit that your blog has helped me come to many realizations and for that I am grateful beyond words!

    I am making progress, but there are still leaps and bounds to be made in this area. A tight budget and food and gas raising is not helping matters at all either. But we will get there. Thanks for writing about this and the reminder to be vigilant in our preps.

  32. Sad, about that couple in Toowoomba. Some things cannot be prepared for, some can. We do what we can.


  33. The devastation and loss of life is absolutely heartbreaking.

    Continuing to pray for all those affected.

  34. I live in Toowoomba, but at Mt Lofty. Never before have I been so happy to live at a ‘Mt’ address lol. My new garden mostly washed away – but nothing that some hard work can’t fix.

    It’s true what It’s Not Easy Being Green said, our shops were empty! I also felt the panic, you start asking yourself, what if they can’t get food supplies in for a month? But lucky for me the answer always was; you’ll be just fine. It was because of your advice about having a storage cupboard that we had plenty of supplies.

    We also dug up our patch of potatoes in the garden, ready to share. Cooked lots of meals with our warrigal greens (native spinach that grows like a weed) and thought of things to cook without eggs and milk. I was so happy that I’d started learning to bake my own bread etc.

    I also work at the Toowoomba Disaster Coordination Centre. We have been getting so many calls from good people offering to help. The flood water is gone, but many people still need help removing carpets and moving furniture. I also think a second wave of help will be needed later in the year as we all band together to help paint new rooms, sew new curtains and plant out new gardens for those who have lost so much.

  35. I'm from the United States. So many times we hear about world events and it just feels like something happened "over there."

    But then there are so many great blogs, like this one, that I lurk on. When you follow a blog, you sort of get to "know" the blogger. I've been on several blogs in the last few weeks catching up on stories about sewing, crafting, parenting, gardening, and then - WHOOM - out of nowhere, she's writing about this flood.

    And it hits me. "Oh my gosh," I think, "this woman whose life i read about regularly is....over there. She's living this thing that I heard about on the news that seemed so random. It's not "over there" to her. It's every day life now.

    So thank you - you and all the other Aussie bloggers I follow who are sharing their firsthand experiences with this tragedy. It's a reminder that what's happening "over there" can happen to anyone, anywhere.



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