This post may ramble. It’s a post in which I hope to include everything, and my thoughts aren’t entirely clear on much at the moment. Because I have too many things to think about, I might try break this up into sections.
I am immensely grateful for the support that we’ve received. So many people, strangers and friends, have contributed to the crowdfunding campaign. To everyone who has contributed: Thank You. You’re keeping us alive. You’re keeping us fed while we don’t have access to a kitchen – or even a toaster. Your contributions are enabling us to access the transport we need to get to and from the wide variety of places that we have to go to.
Thank you to my friend and counterpart, The Bullshit Fairy. Without her support, I don’t think I would have got through the last week.
I’m also grateful for the response from a particular government department who has assisted me in getting connected to the various organisations that we need to be connected with at the moment. We’re lucky here. We are able to access 28 days of emergency temporary accommodation. We’re seven days into that.
To the people who have reached out to me in other ways – emails and messages – thank you. I’m sorry that I have been unable to respond. I just don’t have the spoons right now. They’re being consumed by the endless meetings and telephone calls and bureaucratic hoops and things to try organise and decisions that need to be made.
Some of the rest of this post may reek of whining. Please know that I am grateful. I know that there are people in worse situations than my son and I are in. Things could be worse. I know that we could have died. I am grateful that we didn’t, and at the same time, surviving is hard right now.
On Friday, 17 February, a storm tore through parts of Sydney. I knew it was coming. There had been warnings about it all day. I didn’t realise how bad it would be. I don’t think anyone did.
It started off with rain which became pretty heavy quite quickly. There was lightning and thunder. So far, as expected. But then the wind came. It beat against my windows with such force that I thought they would break. My son was looking through the window, and said that he couldn’t see through the rain. The world around our apartment was white.
I yelled at him to get away from the window, and thankfully he listened because that’s when it happened. The wind tore the roof off half my building. A wooden strut of the roof structure came crashing through the ceiling just above where my son had been standing only moments ago.
Without a roof, water started pouring through my ceiling – through the holes from the debris, through every joint in the ceiling, through all light fittings, down the walls, everywhere. The smoke alarm, being filled with water started blaring, so I switched off my main power. I’m not sure for what purpose because the electrical wires were ripped out with the roof so there was no electricity in my apartment, but it seemed like a good idea.
I phoned my rental agency to tell them that I had no roof and there was water coming in everywhere. I wasn’t quite grasping the seriousness of what I was seeing although I knew the roof was gone, I could see the clouds above me through the holes in the ceiling, and looking through my lounge window into my neighbour’s kitchen meant I was seeing sky where there should have been roof and ceiling. The person on the telephone wasn’t understanding what I was trying to tell her. I was getting increasingly frustrated so when my neighbour from downstairs knocked on my door, I hung up on the person who wasn’t understanding “no roof”.
I had buckets!
(It’s ok to laugh at some of the following. I know that I did when I finally sorted all the memories into the right order. There are still some memory gaps. They may or may not return.)
My neighbour had already phoned emergency services. She took my son out of our apartment and into another apartment where the roof was intact. I knew he was safe and would be looked after.
This is where it gets a little hilarious.
Seeing all the water coming through, I decided to start putting out pots to catch the water. The pots weren’t working (is anyone surprised in hindsight?) so I ran downstairs to get buckets and I put the buckets in the areas where the water was pouring in the most rapidly. In my mind, this was a problem that I could fix. I had buckets!
A fireman knocked on my door to tell me that they’re evacuating the building, and I told him that it was ok because I had buckets. His facial expression is seared in my brain although I only remembered it on Sunday evening.
In no uncertain terms, he told me to get a jumper and some shoes and meet him downstairs. I looked at him as though he was talking gibberish because I had buckets! He left to check on the other apartments, and I continued to move my buckets around because they weren’t catching the water effectively.
I went onto my balcony. Standing there in the wind and the rain and pieces of the roof bashing against the side of the balcony, I finally connected what the fireman had told me with what I had to do. I grabbed shoes and a jumper and went downstairs. My neighbours had already taken my son downstairs.
We spent four hours across the road, waiting for news. We were allowed into our apartment for ten minutes, strictly timed, to get the bare essentials. I managed to get most of the things on the list my friends had given to me because I couldn’t do much thinking. I also used the time to move my cats, my terrified wet cats, to the shared laundry which was downstairs (and therefore dry and safe). We were told we would be able to access the building in a couple of days. I left them enough food to last more than that and made sure that they had enough water. I couldn’t do much else. Emergency services don’t prioritise the lives of animals in these situations. A neighbour had already moved my birds downstairs.
We were safe. We spent the weekend in a hotel with uncertainty as to what lay ahead.
Late on Wednesday afternoon, the building was finally made safe enough to allow us less limited access. We can access our apartments from 7am to 6pm daily. The lower levels had been accessible for 10 minute visits during that time so my cats and birds had been receiving visits from neighbours and myself, ensuring that they had food and water. They’re now all safe elsewhere until we can find somewhere permanent.
I finally got to see the place I have called home for 8 years on Thursday morning. It’s the longest that I have ever lived in the same place. It’s both better and worse than I remember from my torch-lit visit on Friday evening. All my furniture, except for my couch (somehow?), has water damage to some extent. Some of it may still be usable, but I am unable to make decisions right now.
I do not know whether my appliances will work. Between the water and the electrical surge when the power went out, they may be destroyed. I don’t know whether it’s worth paying for their storage or paying for them to be taken to the tip.
I really don’t know whether to try and salvage it and get it into storage or whether to get rid of it. Neither are good options. I don’t have contents insurance because I’ve never owned anything expensive enough to warrant it. I never anticipated having to replace everything I own. Mould is everywhere in my apartment – in such a wide variety of colours. It’s humid and gross. It stinks. Spending the day there trying to pack stuff into boxes means that I’m carrying that smell with me at all times.
My son is distraught. This is the only home he has known. His birthday is in just over a week’s time, and he feels as though the universe hates him because it took away his home. If I had been planning to move, I would have encouraged him to start downsizing some of his collections, but I can’t do that now. He can’t say goodbye to anything when he’s already had to say goodbye to his home.
At the same time, he still hasn’t quite grasped that we will never be able to live there again. He gets it but he doesn’t, so I’m going to be packing up his stick collection, his collection of little plastic things, his collections of the random things that make him happy, and I will be figuring out where to store it and how to store it so that when we find a permanent address, at least the things that made his home home for him can still be there.
So, we spend the majority of our daylight hours packing up our lives. It’s a slow process. Making decisions is hard right now.
I don’t remember the sound of the roof being torn off, but it’s obviously in my brain. Any loud sound makes me jumpy and shaky. That isn’t helped by the fact that builders are putting up scaffolding and safety structures outside my old apartment.
I honestly don’t know. I need to probably get whatever I’m going to store into storage during the course of next week. I’ve had to withdraw from uni this trimester because there is no way I would be able to keep up with the workload.
Our lives are in limbo right now. There’s so much to do and also so much we’re waiting to hear about. I can’t really start looking for another rental place until I can demonstrated that I am financially capable of puting down a deposit (4 weeks rental) plus two weeks rental in advance. I cannot get the deposit back on my old apartment until after I’ve officially vacated the building. But vacating is hard because of the decisions – what to throw away; what to try keep?
We’re trying to fit homeschooling into our day when we can, so that at least there’s some semblance of normal. This isn’t normal though – and I don’t know whether we’ll ever find our normal again.