The Floods Are Coming

The night before, I set all four of my large pots on each hub of my gas cooker and filled them to the brim with water. After I had finished dinner, I scoured out my sink with dish-washing liquid and a sponge, and filled it up just the same.

In case the power went out, I moved my pre-cooked lunches and dinners to the freezer, so they would freeze overnight and keep till Monday, when the storm was supposed to have passed. I shut down both of my laptops and plugged them to charge, making a mental note to disconnect the chargers from their wall sockets before I left for work in the morning.

I checked the balcony for anything loose or light that might get flung about in the dangerous winds that were reported to hit the next day and locked the door, triple checking that the latch had caught.

Opening my kitchen drawer, I stacked two lighters on my counter next to a pile of candles, and kept another set by my front door, in case my lights weren’t working when I got home. I wedged a bit of paper against the latch bolt of the fire escape door so it wouldn’t lock and I’d be able to climb upstairs if the elevators stopped working.

The storm was forecast to be a 10 out of 10 in severity, authorities had warned. We first received word at work two days before, which gave the office a fair amount of time to speculate about the impending doom. Jokes about the apocalypse arriving rang between the desks. I’m sure I heard someone blaming Trump for the huge weather event that was going to hit.

We had been told to pay close attention to flood zones and rain maps by the Bureau of Meteorology. “Check where you will be on Friday evening.” The news cautioned. “Please note what the flood risk will be in that area, because that is when the rainfall will peak. How will you get home? Make a plan now. If you can, you should just stay indoors.” The SES sent us a further emergency warning via text.

I knew I was going to be out on Friday night. I packed a change of dry clothes and wrapped them up together with a spare contact lens case in a plastic bag, kept my phone and a portable charger in one Ziploc pouch and my wallet in another. I made sure to take a spare pack of birth control pills with me and some granola bars in case I was stranded overnight and shops closed.

Before I went to bed I popped over to the supermarket and picked up a few non-perishables for the weekend. A pack of individually wrapped banana cakes, some fruit, two litres of bottled water and some savoury snacks, so I could watch movies and read whilst the worst of the weather hit. I withdrew $100 and asked for change in small bills after remembering that all the ATMs went down after the Tohoku quake and that those who had cash couldn’t get change if they paid for anything with large notes.

I didn’t sleep very well. In my mind, I flicked through the extreme earthquakes, floods, fires and storms that have plagued our planet over the last few months alone. I thought back to shinkansen trips that were cancelled during monsoon season and our sopping wet housemate who stumbled into our living room clutching the bare metal umbrella frame that had its skin ripped off moments before. I remembered how roads would flood in Dubai and schools would close due to the building damage caused by heavy rains. I thought about my grandparents faces in candlelight in Sri Lanka when the power went out and purple lightning streaking across the entire sky while we watched from the dark of my aunt’s living room. How bad would it be tomorrow?

In the morning in the CBD, the sky was grey but calm. I wore waterproof boots and stepped outside to catch my train to work. It wasn’t raining.

Throughout the day, different groups of people would peer through the huge windows from our seventh floor perch and chat to each other in disappointment. “Didn’t they say it was going to hail?” “Nothing’s happening!” “They cancelled my son’s school carnival for this!” When the rain did start to fall, a cheer went up because the day had been uneventful till then. It stopped about an hour later. I wondered what my colleagues would say if they knew about the emergency supplies I had stored in my handbag under my desk. I felt silly about the time I had spent unplugging electronic devices and prepping to bunker down the night before.

I made it back home on Friday night with no trouble at all and spent the rest of the weekend inside anyway, just in case the weather got dangerous. On Sunday, the sun was out and big patches of blue stretched between the clouds.

“You won’t believe what went on in Melbourne over the weekend!” I crowed to my cousin in Sri Lanka on Skype later that day, sitting in a patch of sunlight on my couch. I told him about the non-storm. “In the city, more people were injured falling off ladders preparing for the storm the day before than in the actual rain itself!” I hooted. What a joke.

“We were hit pretty badly by a tropical storm.” My cousin replied. He sent me a video of a tornado that had formed over a populated area somewhere on the island. “There was another one out at sea. The funnel didn’t touch the ground, so we were okay.” I gulped and the laughter quickly died in my throat.

“Offices shut early and we were all sent home. Our internet and power has been up and down over the last few days. In fact, one morning, there weren’t any trishaws on the road to get to work. One of my colleagues called and said she was passing by my place, so I grabbed a change of clothes in case I got stranded somewhere, and I managed to catch a lift with her. Honestly, I hadn’t any extra food stocked up, so I was a bit worried about what I was going to eat over the weekend. And the damage was bad, Ava. Billboards had bent back on their metal stands and there were trees and debris all over the roads. Schools were closed. When the rain stopped we had to call all of our stores to see how much damage they had sustained before ordering replacement marketing collateral for them.”

“That’s insane.”

“This is what’s crazy: the day after it had all died down, the newspapers published articles about the ‘non-storm’ and how it was ‘not a big deal’. The took driver I went to work with that day was furious. They had been hit so badly by the weather in particular.”

It turned out to be an enlightening weekend. I even felt glad for my TCK training. If the storm had reached a 10 out of 10, I feel like I would have been ready for it because of where I’ve lived before. I also was very grateful I’m connected to people from my other homes. Speaking to my Sri Lankan cousin helped me really understand how lucky we were in Melbourne to have early warning systems and a swathe of digital tools and resources at our disposal. It quickly brought me back to Earth, so I wasn’t laughing at Australia any more, but realising how serious those few days could have been and how lucky we were to have governing bodies in place willing to extend their resources to protect us.

Mostly, I was taken aback by how wild being a TCK is: your perspectives are being widened constantly. I learned twice as much experiencing two storms that weekend, when my local counterparts in Melbourne experienced one.


*took & trishaws: Sinhala words for a local three-wheeler taxi.

This article was first published on 30 December 2017