‘Never forget the smell’: 2011 floods remembered

 

Ten years have passed since merciless water rose through their Auchenflower home, but Kate Peters and Greg Woodbury will never forget "the flood smell".

"Everything smelt, you never forget the flood smell," Ms Peters said.

On January 11, 2011 Brisbane residents rushed to salvage their possessions and evacuate as the river burst its banks and water rushed into low-lying areas across the city.

Vincent St was among the hardest hit streets and once flood waters receded returning families realised they had lost almost everything.

"The water came up chest height upstairs, so about 80-85 per cent of everything we owned went to the tip covered in mud," Ms Peters said.

"It took until May 2012 to get back in this house."

Kate Peters and Greg Woodbury’s Vincent St home in the 2011 floods. Picture: Supplied
Kate Peters and Greg Woodbury’s Vincent St home in the 2011 floods. Picture: Supplied

Mum Melissa Haddad had been living in her Vincent St home for just eight days with a baby and a four-year-old when the flood hit and rose "to the gutters".

"It was just me, my husband was still working out west and hadn't yet turned up in Brisbane," she said.

"I just assumed it would never come in the house, I got told by a neighbour who I'd never met before that I may want to go out, and I said 'why we'll just ride it out' so it was very unexpected.

"I just got a few things and walked out, thinking it wasn't going to go in the house.

"We lost the lot."

The family had to demolish their home and rebuild entirely.

Mr Woodbury said the decision to stay in Vincent St and to rebuild their home was "the toughest thing we as a couple had been through" and the memories of the time remain raw.

Kate Peters and Greg Woodbury, out front of their home which they had raised after the 2011 flood. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Kate Peters and Greg Woodbury, out front of their home which they had raised after the 2011 flood. Picture: Steve Pohlner

 

Another flood victim, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Courier Mail her heart still beats faster at the sounds of heavy rain.

"It may be ten years but it doesn't feel like it," Mr Woodbury said.

The couple said they had to put one foot in front of the other with the clean-up or else the despair would become debilitating.

"There was this thick, muddy slime everywhere and we were just devastated and then pretty quickly there were volunteers," Ms Peters said.

Greg Woodbury and Kate Peters start the clean-up on their Rosalie house on Vincent St with a team of mud army volunteers. Picture: Jeff Camden
Greg Woodbury and Kate Peters start the clean-up on their Rosalie house on Vincent St with a team of mud army volunteers. Picture: Jeff Camden

"The great thing about the floods is the people who helped."

In the days and weeks that followed the flood, the Auchenflower community rallied: a nurse who lived nearby tended to people's cuts each night, ladies walked down the street with fresh sandwiches and baked treats each day, a project manager co-ordinated who would do what tomorrow.

The mud army turned out in droves, hosing streets again and again until they was finally clean.

One woman from the mud army, a stranger, took Torwood St local Leigh Ruig's clothes and bras, washed everything and left it on her doorstep like a laundry service.

Antiques dealer Leigh Ruig of 29 Torwood St, Auchenflower lost antique stock that she stored at her home. Leigh was not covered by insurance for the flood in January. Picture: Liam Kidston.
Antiques dealer Leigh Ruig of 29 Torwood St, Auchenflower lost antique stock that she stored at her home. Leigh was not covered by insurance for the flood in January. Picture: Liam Kidston.

 

"She put them on the front porch all beautifully clean, like super clean. Things like that were great," Ruig said.

"The army was amazing, you just had to keep an eye on what they threw out. But that's okay, stuff is stuff."

The water had risen above the kitchen on the second storey of Ms Ruig's Queenslander home.

Leigh Ruig at her home in Torwood Street ten years after the 2011 floods. Picture: Tara Croser.
Leigh Ruig at her home in Torwood Street ten years after the 2011 floods. Picture: Tara Croser.

 

"I didn't have any options because I didn't have much money so I just had to live in it, so it was pretty grubby for a really long time," she said.

Ms Ruig and several other residents who still live in Vincent and Torwood St said they preferred to focus on the present and remain positive.

People in Torwood and Vincent St moving flood water from street in 2011.
People in Torwood and Vincent St moving flood water from street in 2011.


Ms Ruig has rebuilt over the years, in part with help from Brisbane City Council's flood resilience program which she said has been "life-changing" for making her home better protected.

She is strong and resilient, having learnt that she could lose everything and survive.

"You lost everything, pretty much, but it's only just stuff in the end," she said.

"It's done, we're fine, we've moved on. Just don't let it happen again, we'll be right without that."

Originally published as 'Never forget the smell': 2011 floods remembered


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