BATTLING ON: Kerie and Cliff Howlett are still cleaning up their damaged property after the Australia Day floods in Baffle Creek.
BATTLING ON: Kerie and Cliff Howlett are still cleaning up their damaged property after the Australia Day floods in Baffle Creek. Brenda Strong

Flood memories vivid as recovery goes on in Baffle Creek

PADDLING a tinny up to her front door and watching her bed float in chest high water is an image which is burned into Kerie Howlett's mind forever.

The 63-year-old watched a lifetime of belongings float away in the 2013 Australia day flooding event.

"Everything on the bed was dry," she said. "But we had lost everything else.

"All I thought was, 'This can't be happening'."

Alongside her husband Cliff, 67, Kerie remembers nervously watching the rain bucket down for days on end.

"We watched it slowly rise up in every direction," she said.

The whole ordeal was completely unexpected for the couple, who have lived on their Baffle Creek property for 25 years.

"We have never seen the water get near that point before," Kerie said.

The water started to slowly seep into their home during gale force winds and torrential rain about 1am on January 27.

"We were flabbergasted. We had never seen the water rise that high."

At 2am it was still going full spin so Kerie and Cliff decided it was time to head for higher ground.

I still walk around here and think about the water. It doesn't feel like home anymore

They quickly grabbed some life jackets and headed for their shed.

"We just sat there waiting, not knowing," she said. "We didn't even know if the shed would make it through.

"It was really frightful and scary. All I wanted was daylight."

As soon as dawn hit, the couple ventured out to find their neighbours.

"We were stunned. Everywhere had been flooded."

With their neighbours, they made a group of 10 flood victims, stranded with no communication and nowhere to go.

Their only option was to take a boat through more than 2m of water up Coast Rd to a friend's house on higher ground.

Trying to dry out their family photos.
Trying to dry out their family photos. Contributed

When the couple, who have been married for 45 years, returned to start cleaning the home they had built themselves, they discovered the water had taken out everything.

"It was surreal. Some of our stuff had ended up in trees."

Kerie and Cliff were in shock.

"But no communication was the biggest thing," Kerie said. It was the worst feeling of my life."

Kerie managed to make one phone call to her family.

Two months on, the Howletts are still struggling to deal with aftermath of the 2013 Australia Day floods.

"The hardest part is the on-going waiting," Kerie said.

The couple is staying in temporary accommodation but they return to their home every day.

"I still walk around here and think about the water," Kerie said. "It doesn't feel like home anymore."

Each day they work to clean up the mess and devastation that was left.

"It was meant to be cleaned out and sanitised and we are still waiting two months later," Kerie said.

"I just feel it, the mud smell."

Neither one of them have been able to get a full night's sleep since it happened.

"The hardest part is the on-going waiting," Kerie said. "Waiting, waiting just waiting.

"It's been difficult. My head's going with so many things."

They feel like they have been lost in the system, and are still waiting to hear back from their insurance company.

"We are waiting for insurance companies to realise Baffle Creek is here," she said. "Don't get me wrong, they are good I don't want to knock them.

"It's just a slow process. The let-down has been a chain of events."

Belongings are strewn around the home.
Belongings are strewn around the home. Contributed

For now, they are completely relying on the generosity of locals.

"Without whom we would have nothing," she said. "We are sleeping on sheets from the donation shed."

Kerie said she wasn't used to having things given to her.

"I had to actually ask and that was hard," she said.

Even now, two months on, the emotional trauma is ever-present.

"You have good days and you have bad days,' she said. Some days I cry. But then I think about the new stuff I'll be getting.

"But I liked the stuff that was there."

Cliff, on the other hand, said he was taking it as a big de-clutter.

"There are people worse off," he said. "We are really lucky because we built a solid home."

But while the couple is busy re-building their lives, they can't help but wonder - what if it all happens again next year?

A community day will be held on April 20 at the Sport and Recreation Centre in Baffle Creek to raise funds for flood victims.

The local tavern, which is sponsoring the event, said it was their way to say thank you to the community.