January 17, 2011

Helping a Hoarder

Yesterday I was out and about with three of my four children (#4 has an arm in a cast) helping with the flood clean-up effort. It was Sunday. Our Sabbath. We are Christians. We go to church every Sunday and love it. The mess that this flood has caused made me think of a few scriptures:

Ox in the mire

In the service of your God

So with those verses in mind we set off in the morning to help in someway.

My husband had worked in an area on the Saturday that he said was in a bad way. That would be our starting point then. We had been watching the TV for hours everyday so we'd seen the destruction....or so we'd thought. People who spoke about the mess, always mentioned 'the smell' so I knew there'd be a smell to it all. We were not prepared for what we saw. Being on the ground and seeing things first hand and up close and all I can think of is complete devastation. And oh the smell. It hits right away. I had smelled this smell before but for a little while couldn't place it. Then it hit me. This was the smell I'd smelled as a child when I'd go to the dump with my father. It was a 'dump'. It wasn't a 'transfer station' or a 'land-fill'. It was a plain, simple and stinky, dump....and it wasn't pleasant.

These first images are what we drove past on our way to help someone.

This is where the water would have come from and less than a week ago would have been beautiful and green. I don't know that the plant life is dead (yet) but for right now it's brown because it's caked in mud.

There were cars everywhere and really no place to park. There would be no parking on the shoulders of the roads because they were mudpits. So people were parking beside the shoulders...which was pretty much...the ROAD.

We were going to the RSL (Returned & Services League of Australia) because we knew someone who would be working there. However, there was no where to park so we had to continue driving. We kept driving for a few more blocks until we came to a road that we could drive down and actually park. We got out of the car and headed to a house where there were people working. I asked if they could use us...they could.

The first house we helped at was this beautiful big Queenslander. It was situated right across the road from the river so it was hit hard. I noticed the water mark was over a metre on the top level.

As we started working I quickly came to realize that this was a home of a hoarder. Underneath the house was completely FULL of stuff. The owner was on the lawn instructing what was NOT to go on the dump pile. It was already a big pile. They had maybe been working an hour before we got there. At one point I had counted thirty people forming three different chains emptying the stuff from under the house. I do not know how many people were upstairs. Every now and again a man would come down with a laundry basket FULL of STUFF for the keep pile and others upstairs would come out and throw stuff over the landing into a wheelbarrow that we'd empty into the dump pile.

In this second photo you can see through to the neighbouring house. When we got there you wouldn't have been able to. It was filled from the ground to the roof, with STUFF. 

After we'd worked there for about 2 1/2 hours they didn't need us so we left the other workers to it and went to find someone else who could use us. On the way back, 4 1/2 hours later, we passed the 'first house' and found the pile of stuff to keep, had exploded to the front of the fence. The 'keepers' extends the length of the fence line on the inside of the yard, and now is on the footpath.

It was an interesting experience to see what made it to the 'keep' pile. This owner had some beautiful things that's for sure. Beautiful antique furniture. Would I have kept them having been caked in this thick, (some things had up to an inch of slimy mud) stinky, mud? I don't know. I doubt it. I think I would cry...sob...and say goodbye.But then there'd be things come down from upstairs and I'd think 'why??'. Like the M&M statue made it to the keep pile when the photos in frames did not.

Towards the end of our efforts, the lady was in her car driving off somewhere when all of a sudden she stops, in the middle of the road, jumps out of her car yelling something and waving her arms all about. She had spotted a chair in the dump pile that she wanted in the 'keep' pile. So, even though it was broken, we took it off and put it in the correct pile. I'm glad to have made her happy.

At one point I was taking a wheelbarrow of stuff over to the dump pile when I slipped on the mud and fell straight on my already sore knee. That was pretty much the end of me for the rest of the day. It hurt but I could live with it if only I don't have to walk too much (and defiantly not in the slippery stuff). Of course there was no where to sit down so I just stood and watch my children work with the many others.

While working we had countless number of people, clean people, coming up offering us food and water. People who out of the goodness of their heart, purchased and prepared this food and drink with their own money. Our hands, along with the rest of us, were filthy. We'd take the water or can of drink and ask if those with their clean hands could open it for us, which they did. Oh the goodness of people is overwhelming to me.

We were told that there was a street around the corner that could use some help. So off we went.

This is a spiderweb that had been hidden behind the TV unit but was now a work of art on the wall. I thought it pretty in amongst this tragic mess.

At this house (our second) it was a lady and her two daughters who had been stuck out of town and only now able to make it back to the house to start to demolish it. They didn't know what to do. We didn't know what to do. Thankfully there was a guy and his partner show up who DID so they got stuck into the work.

Where the plasterboard was taken off is the height of where the water came up to. I didn't take a photo of the kitchen but the water covered the countertops.

Three of us after the first house. Muddy, hot and stinky but couldn't be happier that we were able to do some good for someone.

This scene is played out over and over again. House after house. 

House #3

This husband and wife team only had each other...until my kids came along and helped them move items out then demolish the house as they had the previous one.

You can see on the open fridge door the line of mud as an indicator of where the water came up to. This was about 4 houses from house #2 and the water level was about a foot lower. About 4 houses up from this one there was no water damage at all.

The gentleman in the white was in the area to help his mum and dad out. After he had finished with their house he went house to house with his expertise telling what had to be done and how to remove it. Then with his trusty tools he proceeded to cut the walls and jimmy the skirting boards....and everything else.

The Energex (electricity company) were out and about checking every house on the street and all the power boxes. They are working hard to get power back to the houses where it is safe to do so.

This was a group of guys from the armed forces who were also doing an INCREDIBLE job around the place. Some of them even working shoulder to shoulder with us at house #1.

A house we saw on the way out of the suburb as we made our way home. This house should be white. It is obvious it was entirely under. 

You can see the water level on the freeway as we drove past an overpass. It's hard to imagine that it was so far over our heads only days before. So much water. So much damage.

This is under the overpass.

Muddy feet of a hard working 15 yr old boy, on the way home. A job well done. A well deserved rest to follow.

What did I learn from this? Things could be so much worse...STOP COMPLAINING!! and belongings are just things....'let it go' (which I also learned from my time helping out at a service provider for adults with disabilities some months ago.) I also learned that wearing out in the service of others is a WONDERFUL thing...as my children would also attest to.


pandorasbox said...

Beautiful service memories you will have of australia!

Tristi Pinkston said...

Wow. That's a lot of hard work ... and I'm sure everyone you helped is so grateful!!

kimmy said...

wow wendi (kim here from tofw group/fb), incredible pics, i'm sure like watching it on tv, doesn't do it justice seeing and experiencing it for real. good for you guys helping out!!

Verlee said...

thanks for sharing. You're making forever memories with your kids. Nature is an incredible thing! We have had some experiences with flooding in our area a few years ago, and it is incredible how fast it can happen and the damage. Good for you for using your 'Sabbath' in such a productive (loving) way!

Jenny said...

Hey Wendy - ta for the pic's - and story. I have other LDS friends who did the kind of things you did. My bro was thnking about going up, but as we spoke of it we came to the conclusion he might be more hindrance than help - would have to find a place to stay in a city he does not know, and without friends to stay with or transport - now thinking about going up shortly to help with remainder of mess.
Good on yer mate!!!
Jenny Fletcher

Amy said...

Love it Wendy! It was so nice to see how people just went and helped strangers. Amazing times.