Tony walked up toward the open garage door. A Harley Davidson motorcyle had been wheeled back out of the garage onto the driveway. The water mark was up over the headlight.
Inside the garage stood a man, looking dazed.
Tony said, “G'day. We heard you could do with a hand.”
The man nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “I'm Keith.”
“Tony.” Tony introduced the others. “So Keith, do you have a plan?”
“Not really.” Keith shrugged. “Never done this before.”
“Well, we have. A couple of times.”
A few of the blokes chuckled. They'd been working together four days straight now, eleven hours a day, cleaning the mud and muck out of people's homes. Any people: young families and old ladies, the well-to-do and the dirt poor. The flood had put the normal social distinctions on hold for a while, and replaced them with new ones. Now there were those whose homes were flooded, and those whose weren't; those who helped others, and those who didn't; those with insurance, and those without.
Keith raised his hands. “Look Tony, if you're gonna help, you're in charge.”
Tony nodded. “Good. Let's have a look.”
The water had come up waist high through the house. That meant any stuff up on the benches was borderline, and that cupboards and fridges may have floated around. There was a step up from the garage into the house, with no lip on the threshold; good for hosing out.
Inside, the house stank, badly. There was the usual flood smell of mud and rotting carpets, but this had a little something extra: sewage. Every house stank, but these were the worst, and there was no getting used to it. They all had to work to hold back the urge to vomit.
Out the back was a covered patio, beyond that was a muddy lawn.
Tony made some quick decisions, then spoke up loudly so that everyone could here. “All right, here's the plan. We'll get the patio hosed out and clean first. Give it a good scrub. That'll be for the clean and dry stuff.” He turned to Keith. “Have you taken photos of everything for insurance.”
“Don't have any.”
“Right. That makes it simple. Everything that's destroyed, goes out on the footpath. If something may be salvageable, out on the back lawn. Let's go.”
Keith took Tony aside for a moment. “Why not put the clean stuff in the garage?”
“It's lower than the house, and is the best place to push all the water out with squidgees.”
“Never thought of that.”
“Neither did we, the first time.” Tim smiled. “Come on mate, let's start.”
Three guys started cleaning down the patio. Everyone else started carrying wrecked stuff out to the front of the house. There was a lot of wrecked stuff.
“Maybe we could wash the mud out of the sofas,” said Keith, hesitantly.
“Don't think of it as mud,” said Tim. “Think of it as poo.”
“Because there's plenty in all this.”
“Did you sand-bag every drain and every toilet bowl?”
“Well, your toilets flush both ways mate.”
Keith went pale, then vomited were he stood, onto the lounge-room floor. Two other blokes went out in sympathy. Tim could feel it in the back of his throat but managed to keep it together. He took a hose and washed the spew out into the garage, and down the driveway.
After an hour of hot, sweaty work, everything that was clean and dry had been removed to the patio. The lounge and dining room were empty of everything, including carpet and underlay. One man remained, lifting up the timber strips around the room that the carpet had once been nailed to. Everyone else had moved onto the bedrooms.
In another hour, they'd finished hosing out the mud.
Tim called his team together. “Time for lunch,” he said. “Let's go.”
This story was first published in Issue 104 of Shift Miner Magazine. It was inspired by my experiences in the clean-ups of both the 2008 and 2010 floods in Emerald; though the 2010 flood was most vivid in my mind. The 2010 floods happened (mostly) between Christmas and New Year, with most of the clean-up in the first weeks of January, before the Brisbane floods hit.
Feel free to share your flood experiences by posting a comment.