A Forfar student, currently undertaking an exchange year in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, has sent a graphic report on his experiences of last week’s devastating floods which hit an area described as larger than France and Germany combined.
Here 20-year-old University of Edinburgh student Aran Ward Sell, whose parents Roger Sell and Carmel Ward live in St James Road, shares his experience.
Although not personally affected beyond the level of power cuts, Aran lives just minutes from areas which, until last Thursday, were flooded up to their rooftops.
The former Forfar Academy pupil, who is an English student and a part-time freelance writer, reflects on what would happen if similar floods were to hit his home town.
He writes: “It was on Monday (January 10) that the reality of the disaster really took hold.
“News of floods in distant rural Queensland had been circulating for days, but in Brisbane it remained a distant, if tragic, concept.
“Monday changed all that. An “inland tsunami” hit Toowoomba, just 65 miles to the west. Astonishing footage began appearing on the news and internet: streets destroyed; homes flooded; cars swept away by raging torrents of brown water.
“The following day, those same waters reached Brisbane. Amid a fitting torrential downpour, the suburb of Indooroopilly was one of many which flooded. This is my home—for now. I’m on an exchange year at the University of Queensland.
“Normally, my time is split between university life in Edinburgh and my parents’ home in St James Road, Forfar. All winter, I’ve heard about the awful weather back home as I sweltered in 30-degree-plus heat; last week, the tables were more than turned. I spent Wednesday replying to concerned emails from friends and family in Scotland and around the world, until the power cut out in the early evening.
“My hillside house was never under threat, but others nearby were; by Wednesday afternoon, houses five minutes’ walk away were just rooftops poking above the floodwaters. Local parks became temporary lakes, punctuated by the roofs of sunken vehicles.
“The Brisbane river was magnificent in its apocalyptic rage: swollen far above its normal banks, it carried a stream of debris though the city. Tyres, furniture, and pontoons once used for securing boats swept past as I watched.
“Across the region, devastation slammed down like a hammer of vengeance. I walked across the university campus to find it cut in half by high waters.
“In the city centre, riverside businesses were swamped. South Bank, the city’s major tourist precinct, and West End, the city’s alternative heart and my favourite area, were both submerged.
“As I write this, three days after the worst flooding, they are among many suburbs still coated with thick, stinking silt. And this is only Brisbane; upriver, the cities of Toowoomba, Grantham and Ipswich were hit even harder.
“Across the state, 41 deaths have been attributed to the flooding, while many more remain missing. Over 200,000 people have been affected, across a flooded area larger than France and Germany combined.
“Faced with this “worst natural disaster in Australia’s history”, the reaction of Queenslanders has been genuinely inspiring. From politicians to flood victims, they rose to the challenge.
“Government and media kept residents well-informed and advised throughout the crisis, and the skies have been filled with the buzz of helicopters on their way to rescue people stranded on rooftops.
“Since the waters dropped, the resilience has continued; I turned up with a shovel and some friends to a volunteer centre, only to be turned away because so many thousands had already volunteered that there were no buses left to transport us left to the affected areas. A tough people, showing their mettle.
“It makes me wonder what would happen if Forfar had to do the same.
“If surging waters came rushing down Castle Street, if the loch rose to reclaim the town that drained it, would it show the same pride, the same strength in adversity which has humbled this visitor to Queensland?
“It would be nice to think so. It would be nicer to never have to find out.”