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Surrounded By Floodwaters In Bundaberg

Brisbane resident Lisa Hong, who is a medical student at Griffith University, standing shin deep in floodwaters in the West End section of the city, close to the central business district. (Linna Hong/YJI)
BRISBANE, Queensland, Australia – What started out as a few rainy days here and there has turned Australia upside down as torrents of water tore through communities, killing dozens of people.
An ironic twist of fate landed me right in the middle of the carnage.
On Friday, Jan. 7, both my parents and I made the trip to Bundaberg to attend the funeral of my late aunt. I hadn’t been close to her, but there was still a thick air of sadness in the car as we drove in silence.
It had been showering for several days and the roads were now almost invisible. It was hard to see anything through the pelting rain, but I was not worried.
This was Queensland, and we were used to strange weather changes. Not to mention my father is an incredible driver. I always felt safe with him, no matter what the driving conditions were.
It was late in the afternoon by the time we arrived at my uncle’s house. He lived just out from the town, so he was close enough to enjoy what Bundaberg had to offer, but was still far away enough away for some peace and quiet.
As we drove through the town, I noticed light flooding. It wasn’t new for Australia to experience some form of flooding, so I put it in the back of my head as I focused on the funeral that would take place on Sunday.
But in a cruel twist of fate, we would not be attending my aunt’s funeral but instead would be stuck inside the house, waiting for the roads to clear so we just could get back to our safe home.
For the next week, I was trapped within my uncle’s home alongside my parents and my cousins. I kept up to date on the floods through my phone and couldn’t believe what was unfolding right outside my door.
Murky brown water had risen and enveloped thousands of houses. Local people, people I knew and loved, had lost everything, and hope was hard to come by.
Time seemed to have slowed down so that every second felt like an hour. We had nothing to do by wait it out and hope that we were not the next to lose our home – or worse, our lives.
As the news spread that more than 70 people were missing, my heart broke. I was never a firm believer in God, but I couldn’t help but ask him – How could he let such a thing happen? How could he sweep entire families away in such a horrific flood? And how could he possibly justify killing children as young as four?
This is not what Australia was about. Australia brought hope and good old outback humor. It was not a place of death and tragedy.
After several nights of broken sleep, constantly afraid that I would be woken by the sound of gushing water coming through the front door, I awoke to a sunny day.
At first I thought it may have been a dream – a scary and prolonged dream, but a dream at that. It wasn’t until I looked out the window and saw a man on a jet ski driving through what would have been the front yard did I realize that it was indeed a reality, my reality.
I was angry at everyone for something they could not control. I wanted justice for the missing people. I wanted justice for the families who were swept away. I wanted justice for the people who had lost everything.
Mostly, I wanted justice for my family who not only had to deal with the death of a beloved family member, but also the fact that they may just lose every possession they owned.
The following Monday brought both sadness and elation. We learned that many of the missing people were being located, but many of them were dead. They’d been caught amongst the debris underneath the water.
I began to cry as I heard the news that mothers had lost their children and that families were to be broken forever as they learned that their father or mother was not going to come back.
In fact, there was really no hope in finding anyone alive anymore. It was now a body recovery mission as the number of missing people decreased and the number of deceased people rose.
However on a positive note, we were able to travel home, so on January 14, just a week after arriving at Bundaberg, we made our way home. It was too late to bury our aunt and we left with a heavy heart.
After the six-hour drive I was finally in my own home. It hadn’t been affected by the flood, so everything was just how I left it.
I had never been so grateful in my life. Every possession – including my Y2K bug stuffed toy that my sister got me when I was 10 – was still safely tucked in between my pillows.
I was lucky, but so many others weren’t.  To this day I do not know why I was able to make it out with everything, but so many others did not.
As I learned the vastness of the damage, I set myself on a mission. I decided to help the flood victims with everything and anything I had.
I began collecting books, magazines, school supplies and clothing that could be donated. I was not going to let fellow Australians lose hope in the Australian spirit.
We are tough, stoic people. We stand together when the earth around us is crumbling.
We lend a hand when someone needs it the most. We don’t walk away and we certainly don’t abandon each other.
We are one nation and together we can overcome anything. It is this way of life that has caused so many positive things in the wake of the floods.
Other states have banded together to help raise money. Local bakers, farmers and builders have come together to provide food and equipment to aid the volunteers in their cleaning efforts.
Thousands and thousands of people have flocked to Bundaberg and Brisbane equipped with gumboots and brooms, ready to clean every single trace of havoc the flood wreaked.
Together we can conquer everything, but we are not ungrateful to the support we have received from those outside of Australia.
The floods have made news on American television and Oprah herself asked people to join together and donate to the flood relief.
So far we have raised over $120 million, but the cleaning bill is at $3 billion.
Every single dollar goes towards the rebuilding of homes and the supply of fresh clothing and food – something everyone should have.
So why not help a country as beautiful of Australia? Donations are being taken at the Australian Flood Relief Appeal website at www.qld.gov.au/floods/donate.html.
We may have each other but we still need a helping hand.
Every dollar counts.
Tasman Anderson is a Junior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.

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