There’s a river that runs along the south side of town. It’s one of the reasons why we chose this place to call home. Keen bushwalkers, kayakers and anglers, our family treasures the proximity of the water and the joy that each day brings with the many sights, sounds and seasonal beauty that exists right outside our door. Of course, living 100 or so meters from the water’s edge does hold its risks.
About a month ago, it started raining. When the river began to rise, my husband and I kept tabs on its height each day during our morning walk. Our customary wave to other dog walkers on the path soon also included a knowing nod to the rapidly changing river. When the local emergency alerts started pinging our phones, we began to check the river height more often. Within a matter of days, the water had risen to just under a meter below the main bridge into town, something we never thought we would see. Locals began to congregate by the riverside in the evenings, standing in the rain, debating if the waters would breach the banks.
The old timers were unimpressed, stating that the water had never breached our side of the river, not even in the last big flood of 2011. Most agreed and continued to go about their business as usual. I could see deep lines of concern make themselves at home in my husband’s brow as he listened to the townsfolk. He got out his phone and began to photograph the river, so that he could keep a record and compare its condition over the coming days.
He needn’t have bothered with the photos. Walking back down to have a look the next morning, it was clear that the situation had worsened. The river had breached the bank, invading the walking track, with the water now touching the underside of the bridge. Emergency services workers had blocked the bridge to all traffic. Within fifteen minutes, the water was on the road. On the far side, it began pouring into vacant farmland and beyond.
A few hours later, the road leading out of town became part of the river system. A driver mistook the risks and had to be rescued, plucked from danger only minutes before his stalled car was swallowed in the torrent. Except for a 300-meter-long patch of water, the river seemed to be holding on our end. By mid-afternoon, the overflow onto the farmland made it look more like a lake than a river.
In response, my husband joined about 50 other local men and women filling sandbags and distributing them around town, starting with the homes on the river road, then going block by block until every home was secured. When they arrived at our place with a truckload of sandbags and began shoring up our house with tarpaulins and heavy bags, the real danger started to hit home.
The drains at the front of our property were beginning to backfill with river water and there was concern now for the safety of the homes in our street. Unfortunately, the homes in the new estate on the east side of town had already flooded due to drain backfill. They had built the estate on the old fairgrounds, which every local will tell you was always a swamp and never should have had houses built on it.
Unlike our town, where the river runs along the southern border, downstream there is a town built with the river running straight through it. That town is also home to a weir where our river and a much larger river flowing from the north meet. Adding to this, a local lake was now beyond its capacity and dumping into our river, pushing all the water towards the weir. With the larger river also at capacity, there was nowhere else for the water to go. The town didn’t have a chance. Our beloved Church, located there, flooded, our Priest evacuated.
Well-meaning friends watching the news began to text and ring us constantly to ask if we were OK. My boss phoned to check in and remarked about how calm I seemed, adding that if she was in the same situation, she would be panicking and awash with worry. Somehow, I was able to keep the situation from taking away my peace.
Through a life of struggles and challenges, I have come to realize that fear does not help in situations where you have little control. I remained hopeful through the example of the older locals who showed only mild interest or concern. I also trusted God. He had gotten our family through many difficult times in life. I believed He would get us through this, too.
Put simply, I gave it all to Christ, laying my worry and fear at the foot of His Cross, then focused on what I could do. Like, moving belongings off the floor and placing them in higher places. Packing overnight bags with clothing, toiletries and other essentials. Collecting all of our important documents, hard drives and photographs, and loading them into the truck in case we needed to evacuate quickly.
My husband, on the other hand, almost became lost in the unknowns and anxiety of it all. He became obsessed with the news reports and emergency alerts pushing through to his phone. I had never witnessed this side to him to such a degree. It surprised me and made me question my own lack of concern.
At one point, I thought, “Perhaps I should be feeling anxious and afraid?" The situation certainly called for it. It had been an incredibly challenging three years. Our family had already been through so much during the lockdowns of the recent pandemic, losing our jobs, relocating and starting over. And now, we could lose it all again in a flood.
And yet, I did not feel hopeless.
It was my Peter moment.
Would I trust Our Lord and walk on water to meet Him, or would my fear and lack of faith cause me to sink into doubt? “Jesus, I trust in You,” became my whispered mantra whenever worry crept into my heart. I also found myself earnestly praying for others, especially the older townsfolk who lived alone, and for my husband, that he too might let go, and let God - to not fear, but trust that no matter what happened, God knows what we need and what is best for us in any given situation.
Eventually, the rain stopped, and the water receded. We could again set out on the entire riverwalk without any floodwaters diverting us from our path. With the nearby lake still overflowing, we have been told that there will be further dumping into the river system, and we should not put away the sandbags just yet. The bridge into our town is no longer closed, though the road is damaged and in need of repair.
The clean-up has been slow and gut-wrenching, especially for the neighboring town. Many homes have been lost with looters helping themselves to the properties abandoned by families who fled to safety. Every day, my husband lends a hand where he is needed, coming home covered in mud from head to toe. We may have been spared, but so many more are in need. We offer support where we can.
Today is a new day. The sky is blue, and the ground is dry underfoot. The birds are chirping, and the swans have returned. A momma starling has found shelter on top of our electricity box and made a nest. Hope is again in the air that the worst is behind us.
Even if I had panicked and allowed fear to consume me, this day would have still come. How much better to have had hope in flood waters than to have drowned in fear? I am grateful for the peace that graces my heart at this time, and for the nearness of God whenever we need Him. Come what may.