Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Before The Deluge
Yesterday, I woke to another day of heavy rain. Worried about possible leaks, my assistant drove to the new enamel studio. She stacked the aluminium trestles at the back of the space and piled folded canvas drop sheets high on top of them. The last thing we expected was a phone call, around noon, telling us that the city was being evacuated. I turned on the TV news to see footage of a swollen Brisbane River beginning to break its banks. The anchorwoman reported, with exaggerated calm, that "workers in the city had been asked to leave". Bus routes were closed and freeways were thick with cars and taxis. I told my assistant to go home.A few weeks ago, I'd already moved my stretchers and art materials from a semi-rural studio which, according to news reports, was now already inundated, to a smaller, drier space in my father's home. Now I moved them higher up in the house. I drove to the local supermarket to stock up on food and toiletries for the next few days. The shelves were almost bare and staff handed out sweets to placate the crowds. I filled my truck with petrol. I still wasn't taking it seriously but I thought I may as well be prepared.Back at my studio, I was at something of a loose end. The paintings I wanted to work on weren't dry enough to re-coat, despite a constant stream of hot air from a heater. I caught up on emails and a backlog of admin' on my website. I left the TV on in the background, set to a 24-hour news channel. The death toll from the flash flood in Toowoomba, an hour west, was increasing. The footage showed a fast-building wave of water sweeping away cars and houses.The report was interrupted by a a grim announcement from the state's Premier: the Wivenhoe Dam, built to protect Brisbane after the last flood disaster in 1974, was so full it could no longer protect the city. The river was predicted to rise rapidly within 48 hours. I looked up the flood maps online to see if the areas where I am, and where my father is confined at a hospice,were likely affected. It's unlikely that either of us will be washed out but the roads between probably will be in about 12 hours time. I decided to visit him. I wanted to let him know I was alright. On the drive back, the streets were deserted except for an occasional, empty bus with a 'No Service' sign illuminated on the front. The only indication that something was wrong was the sound as I drove over bridges: a dull roar of water rushing through creeks and gullies that would soon be too narrow to contain it. It felt like a scene from a movie, the kind shot to build anticipation and fear. My street looked the same as it always does. It was the sound that made it eery. Every TV in every house was tuned to news.According to Brisbane's Mayor, "A volume of water equivalent to two Sydney Harbours is pouring over the vast dam's spillway into the river every 24 hours." Three quarters of the state, including Brisbane, have been declared disaster zones. Ironically, the only damage I expect to sustain is the loss of a large, unpainted stretcher being kept at a specialist art storage facility. According to flood projections, the building is due to be underwater tomorrow. But I can order another stretcher easily. It won't be as easy for the company, which has transported a lot of my work over the last months, to recover. This morning, the rain has stopped. The city's power is soon to be be shut down in preparation for the worsening of the flood. Everything is strangely silent: no cars, no trains, no people's voices, not even barking dogs. Anyone who's not evacuating has been asked to stay inside. I keep on working.