A cruel January. Like an inland tsunami, giant floods came gushing in many Australian towns and cities last month and almost paralysed a nation. Australia came to grips with one of the worst natural disasters in ages affecting thousands whose houses were either marooned or loved ones washed away.
The stories are countless. But here is a first-hand account of an Indian survivor who narrated his ordeal to me on the phone:
It was a manic Monday. Just back from a holiday in Malaysia, Manjeet Singh, 44, a resident of Gatton town in Queensland was enthusiastic about joining his work back in Toowoomba, 35 km from where he lived. Despite the drizzles, he reached office in the morning but by 1 pm decided to call it a day as the town of Withcott through which he had to drive was prone to landslides. But before Singh realised, "I was stuck in the middle of the flood and the car hung in there."
It began to pour heavily and Singh could hardly see the road ahead. As he was driving down, he saw a car three-four metres ahead of him and was wondering why it had stopped. "Then I saw the waters - coming and rising and the car in front was reversing on the left lane," recalls Singh. Immediately, he too reversed on his right but could not go far as a truck and another tow-truck had parked behind him. "The next thing I realised was within five minutes, the water started to come from everywhere with rocks and so on. It came with a very strong force," says Singh.
Helpless, Singh and the other few drivers stranded looked at each other and shrugged their soldiers. The next thing Singh did was to take off his shoes and socks and sit between the handbrakes. "I had my windows down and thought if the car starts moving I need to think of something to do. I sat inside my car and watched the water rushing through left and right. It was scary."
Then he called his manager back at work who was trying to get help from the State Emergency Services (SES) team. There were some people up the hill who were watching them, says Singh, and they were trying to call the cops too but no one could come down as the force of the water was overpowering. "It was easy imagining a nearby town had already been wiped out by the floods."
For the next 40 minutes, they were slashed by the rains and the water kept rising. Finally, when it stopped raining the water slowly started receding. But for Singh, there was nothing short of a miracle too that afternoon. "The two trucks behind us took a lot of the water coming down, otherwise all the five cars would have been swept away," he says, adding, "If it was not for the trucks, it would have been a different story."
After the 40-minute ordeal, the SES volunteers came and with the help of the cops too, Singh and the others affected were escorted back to Toowoomba. The roads had to be cleared so by the time Singh got back it was one in the morning. At Toowoomba he was provided accommodation and he could return home to Gatton only by Wednesday afternoon after the roads were repaired.
Singh, who works for a non-profit organisation dealing with rural health, looks at the experience as one out of the unordinary. "There were people worse off," he says, thankful that he is alive.