Australian, The, 22.01.2011, p7
Bereaved families are united in their grief
IN a tiny chapel sheltered by towering gum trees in the Lockyer Valley yesterday, two shattered families were joined in a circle of sorrow.
A few days before an “inland tsunami” hurled death and devastation down the sleepy valley, a selfless stranger had saved Jean Gurr’s life.
The 88-year-old — mourned by her family yesterday as an “open-hearted lady with the gift of the gab” — had been rescued from a flooded creek by Grantham fireman Danny McGuire. But when a flash flood tore the town apart on January 10, Mr McGuire was unable to save his own family.
Mrs Gurr had been with seven other elderly Grantham residents, some in wheelchairs, when their bus stalled on a flooded road on their way home from their weekly outing to the Gatton RSL.
The grateful great-grandmother told family later how she had cheated death.
“We all told the driver not to change gears halfway through,” Mrs Gurr told her niece, Carolyn Evans, the night before she drowned in her Grantham home.
“We were terrified we would be washed away — we had to be towed backwards.”
Four days later, Mrs Gurr’s body was found in her lounge room, where the same creek that almost swept her away had washed water halfway up the walls. Her son, Andrew Gurr, believes his mother had been watching television or drifted off to sleep when the water rose.
“To know that she went reasonably peacefully, even in this tragedy, is a great consolation,” he told mourners at the Laidley chapel yesterday.
But that same wave of death dealt a much crueller blow to Mr McGuire: the fireman who had rescued strangers could do nothing to save his own family.
Fleeing the floodwaters in his fire truck, Mr McGuire could only watch as his wife and two of his children drowned, trapped in the flooded cabin.
He had managed to save his seven-year-old son, Zachary Jibson, by pushing him out of a window and into a tree when a wave of water 3m high crashed over the fire truck.
“When the wave hit me it went over the cab and spun the truck around,” Mr McGuire told The Weekend Australian.
“I had my window open so I threw Zachy out because I could see the tree coming.
“I said, `Climb, boy!’, because he’s a monkey, and he climbed. I was a quarter of the way out (of the window) and I just got sucked out.
“I tried to lean back in for Jocelyn because she was next, but I was gone.”
Mr McGuire — who changed his name from Garry Jibson, as he was known to his neighbours — grabbed hold of a tree.
His wife, Llync-Chiann Clarke, tried in vain to smash the truck’s other jammed window as the cabin filled with water.
Father and son listened to the screams, then the silence, as the rest of their family drowned.
For eight hours, they clung to separate trees until the water subsided, and a passer-by in a four-wheel-drive took them to safety.
The deadly tide that tore through the Lockyer Valley on January 10 drowned at least 14 residents, leaving families as broken as the shells of houses they once called home. The torrent tore Jessica Keep, a blue-eyed toddler about to turn two, from the grasp of her drowning mother. A rescuer hauled Stacy Keep, six months pregnant, just as she was starting to slip below the surface.
She survived, bruised from head to toe; her unborn baby was safe, but she is nursing an unspeakable grief.
The torrent also took her frail mother, Dawn Radke, who had moved in with the young family and was last seen clinging to a ride-on mower in the garage.
Stacy’s mother-in-law, Pauline Magna, 65, was found dead downstream. Afraid of the rising creek, she had sought refuge in her son’s home higher up the street.
Her sons believe she managed to get her other two grandchildren to safety before the maelstrom sucked her out of the house.
Jacob, 4, survived by clinging to a shower rail while Maddison, 5, was found alive in the lounge room, crouching on a couch that had floated up to ceiling.
“The water was (180cm) deep in the house but the couch floated up to the ceiling,” the children’s uncle, Darren Keep, said yesterday.
“I don’t know how Jacob survived. He just hung on. He’s been having swimming lessons but he wasn’t doing very well.”
A helicopter lifted the children’s father, Matthew Keep, from a neighbour’s roof, where he had clambered after the maelstrom sucked him out of his home through the open garage.
The torrent also swept Josh Ross, a 25-year-old childcare worker, to his death as he struggled to lift his disabled mother on to a bed, as the water smashed their home in half.
He was last seen atop a tin roof floating downstream, and for 11 days his cousin, Tanaya Ross, harboured the hope the kind-hearted bloke she loved as a brother would be found alive. On Thursday, her world crumbled, bringing some closure to the agony of not knowing that still torments the families of nine more people for whom authorities hold “grave fears”.
“He had a soul about him . . . he never did wrong by anyone,” she said. “He’s up there with more pure people than here.”
Josh’s mother, Brenda Ross, and her partner, Chris Face, are among the missing.
So is Katie Schefe, a six-year-old girl enamoured with dolls and “anything purple or pink”, who was swept away with her father Selwyn Schefe.
Floodwaters engulfed the family car as they fled their home, which has been washed away.
Mr Schefe’s body was found. His widow Catherine, a Toowoomba schoolteacher, was rescued from a tree and is recovering with her mother, awaiting any news of her “darling little girl”.
The flood took Sandy and Steve Matthews, childhood sweethearts swept to their deaths just moments after saving their children.
Sam, 20 and Victoria, 16, survived when their parents pushed them through a manhole into the ceiling, as water smashed through the front door and windows, lifting the piano and sucking a washing machine out the back door.
“We did not give up on Mum and Dad,” Victoria said. “Dad is a weightlifter and very fit and strong. Mum is also a strong swimmer. If anyone could survive, they could.” The bodies of the parents — who had planned a holiday to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary this year — were found before dark, 2km downstream.
In Ipswich, west of Brisbane, a young family is wrestling with grief and forgiveness over the death of four-year-old Jesse, a little boy described by staff at his childcare centre as “a good kid, always happy, with lots of friends”.
Jesse drowned when the torrent washed him from the grip of a swift-water rescuer. His seven-year-old brother was saved.
In Toowoomba, 13-year-old Jordan Rice drowned alongside his mother Donna Rice, after insisting bystanders first rescue his little brother Blake, 10.
“He was quiet as a mouse in public, but underneath he had the heart of a lion,” Jordan’s heartbroken father, John Tyson, said this week.
A funeral was held in Ipswich yesterday for Robert Bromage, 50, the uncle of Ipswich city councillor Cheryl Bromage. His body was found in the submerged car he had bought six days earlier.
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