Wednesday, June 22, 2005

On a Flood

Two days ago (the 20th of June), I was having a shower when the rain started. It sounded like it was going to be a big one. It roared. But it was a diffuse sound, and nothing to worry about. Then a few minutes later, I heard the more immediate sound of heavy, constant dripping. Walking out of the bathroom, I saw that our little stairwell had become a waterfall.

The roof was flooded. We have a flat area on our house, accessible by the stairs. There's a wall around it. The rain was so heavy that the place turned into a small swimming pool. There are drainage holes at the end, but they were blocked by debris. Even if they weren't, their widths would have been too small for the deluge. Instead, the liquid built up, and then it overflowed into the house. I estimate we had 10 centimetres or more falling in the downpour. Normally the roof is perfect to hang the washing. But this afternoon, it had become a pool of lukewarm water, with the odd piece of styrofoam, chipboard and dogshit mixed in.

Oh, did I mention we had a dog? Yes, we obtained one a week ago. She's a nice girl pup. I dubbed her "Timpani" when my masseur was drumming into my back on her first night here. I don't know dog breeds too well, but she resembles a baby dingo. Like young pups everywhere, she's affectionate and playful. Unfortunately, she's also yet to be toilet trained. After a few evenings of the odd puddle of piss, we decided to let her sleep on the roof. She could do her business up there if she chose. We even had a doghouse built for her - using a few pieces of derelict chipboard cupboards. But with the rain, the doghouse disintegrated, and now she's back sleeping downstairs. At least the chipboard were useful in building an impromptu dike.

The flood was inconvenient, but it wasn't destructive. The water kept to the steps until it it the ground floor, and then it was quickly mopped outside. The bedroom (with its computers and books) was safe from the rain. Not much was on the floor apart from shoes, and they were placed on plastic chairs. The real problem was that I had to cancel my Vietnamese class. The road outside was also flooded - up and over the axle of a bicycle. Fortunately, my teacher was cool with my call. He lives in District 6, an area notorious for its poor drainage, and for the amount of overflowing that happen there. He was flooded out as well,  so he wouldn't have been able to make it anyway. 

Our landlady lives next door, so she was called in to inspect the property. She observed the roof. She saw its underperforming drainage holes. She promised to get someone to repair it. Then a few of us (including the landlady herself, and her brother) started bailing out the roof. We bailed the water onto the motorbikes parked below. Our front area is built half a metre above the road itself, so they weren't in dange of being washed away. But I'd wished someone had thought of moving the bikes into the house. Someone like myself.

Once the rain stopped, the flood cleared surprisingly quickly. In 10 minutes, the water went from axle height to ground height. Government plumbing is slow, but it does work. It just doesn't work quickly enough to prevent floods in the first place. 

The rain did have one consequence. The next day, I was attempting to driving into work. The problem was that the bike would sputter to a stop after driving 10 metres. Even adding fuel didn't solve the problem. We took it next door (the other next door - opposite the landlady) to have someone look at it. As you'd expect, we'd got water in the engine. It wasn't the rain that did the damage. It was the buckets of water that we bailed on it from two floors up.

But we were relatively lucky, compared to some. Unlike one workmate (who came home to find water damage everywhere), our roof didn't leak at all: it was the doorway to the stairs that let the water out, and it had the decency not to spread everywhere in the house. In one street (near where my partner's parents live), 13 out of 14 houses flooded from the road. Imagine your living room up a couple of inches with dirty, muddy, smelly liquid from the roadside, with a little bit of sewer mixed in. You have to mop it out, if not shovel it out. And that would have not been an isolated incident either. I also heard from others that some areas of the city were impassable. At least we didn't have anywhere to go that day. Yes, we were lucky - luckier than some.