10 April 2011

Goodna moves forwards after the flood: Hope among the streets of hell

Surviving ... Janet Owens in her caravan with
daughters Hannah and Chloe. 

HER street is mainly deserted in the ghost town where the wind whistles through the carcasses that were, until three months ago, people's homes.

Janet Owens's house is one of these empty shells. Seemingly abandoned, it stands silent, stained with the mud that filled it up when the Bremer River swelled and swallowed the close-knit community of Goodna whole.

Behind her ruined house and down the bottom of her still muddy backyard, Mrs Owens is living in a tiny caravan with her husband Greg and their two daughters, Hannah, 14 months, and Chloe, 8 weeks.

Chaplaincy Australia has lent them the caravan until they are able to move back into their house but they're not sure when that will be.

The Owens are insured with Westpac, which has paid out several claims already - including the Owens's contents claim - but they're still waiting to hear the verdict on their claim for their house.

In the meantime, Mrs Owens is spending her days juggling the demands of two babies within the confines of their caravan.

There's no room for one cot, let alone two.

Remarkably, she remains positive about their situation.

"As long as my daughters are here and my husband is here, I'm happy," she said.

"I was very upset about what had happened. We lost everything. I only had time to take a few sets of clothes for us and our passports. That's all.

"We live in this caravan now but I'm looking forward to when we can move back into our own house."

Most Goodna residents, despite their predicament and the knowledge that it could happen all over again at any time, are rebuilding.

Local councillor Paul Tully said most of them did not have a choice.

"Their house is often their only asset. They can't sell it the way it is or, if they did, they wouldn't get enough for it to be able to buy another house somewhere else," he said.

"They know the risks involved in staying and they may not like it but they don't have anything else they can do."

Real estate agent Mark Boettcher said he "feels awful" for home owners trying to sell because they're having to deal with their financial security being "washed away".

"Of course the market's been heavily affected. I've got one house on the market now in Woogaroo Street that has been completely wrecked,'' Mr Boettcher said.

"It's on two blocks of land but we're still getting ridiculous offers. It's on at $199,000 but people want to pay half the price. There's plenty of people out there looking and wanting to buy - but they're wanting to pay absolute rock-bottom price to take on the risks now associated with this area, which is also fair enough."

One house on Brisbane Terrace, which the owner had completely rebuilt, went under contract within three weeks. Selling agent Noel Elliot said he couldn't reveal the sale price yet but said that the house "went very cheap" and for "a lot less" than the asking price of $259,000.

Two doors down in Brisbane Terrace, Chin and Nam Tran are slowly putting the pieces of their shattered lives together.

Not only was their two-storey home inundated to the roof but Mr Tran's home-based mechanics business was also flooded. Tools, equipment and supplies were wrecked. They have no home and no income.

Mr and Mrs Tran, along with their 10-year-old daughter, are still living in their house. They cook on a camping stove and they sleep in a tent inside their house. A toilet was installed only last week.

Chin Tran and his wife Nam with Dave Beard who
has volunteered to help the couple rebuild their home.

Uninsured for their losses, they have received $1000 from the Premier's Relief Fund and are angry about how little assistance they have received.

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