The Land Down Under, Underwater

Imagine if Texas – the entire state, including Panhandle – were engulfed by floodwaters. Roads and schools closed. Homes, shops, hospitals, all at least several feet thick with water and mud. The waters pushing some homes clean off their foundations to be swept downstream by rivers higher and faster and stronger than most people have ever seen. Imagine tens of thousands of Texans routed out of their homes, rescued by neighbors and helicopters.

Imagine dozens listed as missing, bodies turning up in communities far away.

This is what it’s like in eastern Australia these days. A Texas-size area of the country faces years of what one official calls “post-war”-size repairs and restoration. Electricity is gone, gasoline is about to disappear, thirteen people have drowned and seventy are listed as missing – with more expected in each category.

Enormous rains have fallen in the western parts of the Pacific Coast states of Victoria, New South Wales, and especially Queensland. The resultant flooding – which continues – has destroyed lives and businesses, shut down schools, and threatens to cost billions of dollars in repairs, shaving 1% off the Australian GNP.

The relentless flooding has resulted in much pain – yet despair, which the world saw in New Orleans after Katrina, seems to be staved off by the Australian spirit. People have formed human chains to get valuables to higher ground. They’ve floated each other to safety on surfboards. They’ve given up their places in line in order that those more vulnerable may be helped first. The area’s last devastating flood was in 1974, and Australians are relieved that at least this one did not reach the even higher levels of thirty-seven years ago.

Many small towns in the interior will never be the same. On the Pacific coast, the city of Brisbane was hard-hit but will recover, slowly – the Wivenhoe Dam, built upstream to save Brisbane from a repeat of the 1974 disaster, is still having to release water equivalent to three times the volume of the Sydney Harbor, in order to avoid total breach.

What do Australians need? They need extra hands. People in emergency work who go down under will receive a welcome like no other they’ve experienced, from people who know how to shrug and rebuild.

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