Australian Journalist Surrounded By Floodwaters

NPR's Robert Siegel speaks with Rob Minchel, a radio producer with Australian Broadcasting Corporation, about the flooding in Brisbane. His house is surrounded by water. Brisbane is Australia's third largest city, and thousands have evacuated. The Brisbane River overflowed its banks on Tuesday after the floodgates were opened to the dam upstream. The river is expected to crest on Thursday.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Rob Minchel is a producer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Brisbane. He is not just reporting on the floods, his own house is surrounded by water right now and he joins us by cell phone. Welcome to the program.

M: Good afternoon.

SIEGEL: And where are you right now?

M: Well, Robert, I'm in a very typical Brisbane suburb, a leafy middle-class suburb about three or four miles from the city center. The good news is that I awoke this morning to receding floodwaters. My house is still surrounded by water, but the water is - most of the water has left my property now.

SIEGEL: And are you inside the house, or on the roof of the house?

M: I awoke yesterday to the water approaching the house and didn't realize how rapid the water was actually going to rise. So the first thing I started to do is move - I've got a two-level house, and I started to move all my belongings up to the second level of the property, and then started to think about how I was going to people out as the water rapidly rose.

The emergency services came along in dinghies telling us to get out. My five- year-old daughter, she just thought that was absolutely fantastic seeing snakes and cane toads invading the house. But it was even more amazing that she could be evacuated on an emergency service dinghy.

And my mother who's visiting from the U.K., she had to scramble over the roof to a neighbor's that are on higher ground. And I just slowly moved as much as I could up to the top level of the house. And I'm just looking out now on a typical city suburb. It's just like a scene from one of those end-of-the-world sci-fi movies, you know?

All I can see are the remains of rooftops, treetops. Yesterday I saw a car floating by, children's bicycles, bits of furniture, even a refrigerator. It's just an amazing scene.

SIEGEL: Rob, you've described the evacuation of your daughter and your mother. Why are you still there? Why didn't you leave with your family?

M: Well, the whole street evacuated except one bloke three or four doors down. We both decided to stay because we had a two-level property. A lot of properties in this part of the world are single level, and we figured that even though the waters were rising four or five meters, they weren't going to rise ten meters. So that meant the second level, at least the roofs of our houses were going to be safe. So we could stay.

My escape route was basically to jump onto my roof and swim across the floodwaters to another house, and from that roof escape to higher land behind.

SIEGEL: Do you think, now, seeing the condition of your house, that when the waters recede, that it can be cleaned up and it's still habitable, or are the walls going to have to come down?

M: No. My house is definitely going to be inhabitable. There's no doubt about that. The waters have mainly left now and I can already see that's going to be OK. Looking out across the park in front of me, and looking at my neighbor's house, there's absolutely no way I can see people going back in there in, I don't know, for the next three or four days.

And when they go back in, I have no idea what they're going to find. I mean, we have at least four sewage treatment plants in Brisbane, all of them failed. So that cleanup job from that alone is going to be a massive job, because the smell is just - is already beginning. I don't know what kind of health risk that's going to be. There's so many things to think about now.

I mean, the cleaning of - of course, the most important thing is that so many people have lost their lives, and I think that's where my heart goes out now. Not to my own trivial concerns really about cleaning the house and making sure, you know, the DVD's are going to be back, and the technology - and the cars are OK, because (unintelligible) to those people that have really suffered.

SIEGEL: Well, Rob Minchel, thank you very much for talking with us about it.

M: You're very welcome.

SIEGEL: That's Rob Minchel in Brisbane, Australia. He is a producer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, but he is also somebody whose own home has been surrounded by water in these floods.

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