Deb­bie’s dev­as­ta­tion drags on Cop­ing with nat­u­ral disas­ter

Long af­ter the me­dia at­ten­tion moves on, those af­fected by the cy­clone still have an ar­du­ous task ahead. This is one woman’s tale of liv­ing with chaos af­ter the ini­tial threat passes

Central and North Burnett Times - - READ - BY Joanne Les­lie

THEY say in­sur­ance is for peace of mind. For me it’s been the op­po­site. Since March 30, when Cy­clone Deb­bie’s tail dumped 38cm on our prop­erty in one day, send­ing a roar­ing cas­cade of mud and wa­ter through our bed­room, life has been a roller-coaster of emo­tions.

At first there is the adren­a­line rush: Change the flow, stop the flood, shovel mud and rocks, block the gap­ing hole in the side of the house.

Then comes res­ig­na­tion and de­ter­mi­na­tion. We shift de­bris at our Blue Knob prop­erty, about 10 min­utes north of Nim­bin in New South Wales. We also clean floors, as­sess dam­age and pile wreck­age.

The in­sur­ance com­pany is prompt. Af­ter the mud­slide on Thurs­day, a man turns up on Mon­day to tally con­tents dam­age. A struc­tural asses­sor fol­lows a few days later.

Both are re­as­sur­ing with a clear plan: claim for dam­age, bring in a stor­age pod for un­dam­aged items, lift wooden floors, dry out foun­da­tions, re­build dam­aged walls and floors. Sim­ple. The time­frame is two–six weeks.

That was 15 weeks ago.

At first we un­der­stand the slow progress. Half of Lis­more has gone un­der. Peo­ple have lost not just homes and pos­ses­sions, but busi­nesses and liveli­hoods.

We are pa­tient. Our road, wrecked in the del­uge, is treach­er­ous in the wet. And it pours for days.

The in­sur­ance com­pany moves us into a ho­tel in Lis­more. Two rooms with mi­crowave and fridge and a bal­cony look­ing down on the con­crete car park. At least we are out of the mud.

Frus­tra­tion strikes af­ter a few weeks. Our claim, con­tracted out, is ap­proved. Goods can be bought with vouch­ers from a list of pre­ferred sell­ers. But what if there are things not avail­able from the list?

Calls to the in­sur­ance com­pany are wasted. A se­ries of op­er­a­tors, put on to deal with the vol­ume of in­quiries, can’t an­swer.

An­guish, anger and ar­gu­ments. My hus­band even­tu­ally finds a real per­son at the disas­ter re­cov­ery cen­tre who or­gan­ises cash for the things we can’t ac­cess off the list.

My gut and head are in re­volt. My stom­ach is in con­stant tur­moil and a rain­bow ser­pent has started wan­der­ing across my field of vi­sion, the first sign of a mi­graine.

In the fol­low­ing weeks we move ho­tels, into a sin­gle room with no cook­ing fa­cil­i­ties. Then we move back.

A pod is dropped off to store un­dam­aged fur­ni­ture but, af­ter weeks of sun­shine, it ar­rives on a rainy day and is left 700 me­tres from our home, down a steep hill.

Seven weeks af­ter the disas­ter, we go home to check progress and get into the gar­den. Our wooden float­ing floors have been lifted, leaving stink­ing mud on the con­crete un­der­neath. All the fur­ni­ture that sur­vived the mud­slide is pushed against one wall, grow­ing mould in the damp. The hole in the bed­room wall is still cov­ered by the tarp we put up, though it has been pushed aside, prob­a­bly by the bush rats that

‘‘ In the fol­low­ing weeks we move ho­tels, into a sin­gle room with no cook­ing fa­cil­i­ties. "

greet us from the bath­room. I sit amid the de­bris and howl. I trusted the in­sur­ance com­pany to know what they were do­ing, trusted they had a plan, trusted that our home would be cared for and mended.

No one seems to be co-or­di­nat­ing. No one seems to care. In all this time, we are the ones do­ing the chas­ing and check­ing. Our claim has been con­tracted out, not to one but to mul­ti­ple arms: the fi­nanciers, the builder, the disas­ter re­cov­ery and clean up, the pod peo­ple, the plas­terer, the painter.

I fall into a hole. Get­ting up for work is hard and talk­ing to peo­ple is harder. I suck my­self down, feel­ing grumpy and dis­con­nected. Sit­ting in cafes to get out of the ho­tel, I sud­denly burst into tears.

Des­per­ate, dis­tressed and raw, I run. I head to my friend’s farm. I cook and read and play with her grand­kids. I walk the hills.

My hus­band calls. They have to test for as­bestos. There’ll be no work for a few weeks while the test­ing is done.

It’s an­other blow. I come back, feel­ing over­whelmed.

Life goes past in a blur. “San­ity” is es­cap­ing to Bris­bane most week­ends.

My hus­band asks the in­sur­ance com­pany to put us up in an Airbnb, cheaper than the ho­tel and in a small town near Lis­more, with a green out­look and space to cook a lit­tle.

At first they say no. As the weeks go on they agree. Fif­teen weeks on, we inch closer to be­ing in our home. Floors are clean for the new wood, walls are cut and re­moved ready for new boards. The gap­ing hole in the bed­room re­mains.

The mud­slide took out our bed­room fur­ni­ture, out­door fur­ni­ture and what was on the ve­randa; the long de­lays and poor or­gan­i­sa­tion took out much of the rest. We have noth­ing left.

In­stead of pay­ing for six weeks ac­com­mo­da­tion, the in­sur­ance com­pany has had to cover 15 weeks and count­ing.

Bet­ter co-or­di­na­tion might have saved many of our house­hold pos­ses­sions and stopped this money bleed.

Es­cap­ing to Bris­bane, the project man­ager on our build calls.

PHOTO: MARC STAPELBERG

Flood­wa­ter tears through the Lis­more cen­tral busi­ness district.

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