THEY say out of adversity comes strength.
And so it is at Greenhills Lodge Aged Care where, for more than 30 hours residents and staff battled through the severe flood that caused havoc in the region on March 31, leaning on each other for support.
But while the floods put Murwillumbah under great stress, the disaster has left a connection between staff and residents stronger than ever before.
Greenhills Lodge manager Jacquie Everson said her team had jumped into action as flood warnings begun to trickle through on Thursday, March 30.
"Through the day there were a few staff and we were getting the notices to evacuate,” Ms Everson said.
"We went racing across to town to get the medication and sent some staff out to get milk, bread and as much supplies as we could.”
Sending as many staff home as she could, Ms Everson said she decided to book accommodation at the nearby Ponciana Motel for the remaining 10 staff before disaster struck.
"I decided to book the hotel next door so we could have somewhere to go and rest and swap over between shifts because we obviously had no idea how much water was coming,” she said.
"We sent six staff off to the motel that had worked through the day and four of us remained here. Then the road collapsed between the motel and here so I had six staff at the motel who couldn't get back to help us and I had four staff for over 30 hours, including me.
"The poor six were over there waving to us but couldn't do anything else.”
With only four staff on hand and 44 residents to care for, Ms Everson said she didn't have time to panic as there was too much to do, including keeping residents calm.
"We informed them all that if we wake them up in the middle of the night it's because it's peak tide and we need help,” she said.
"All night I kept watching the river rise and rise (and it reached) about a metre and a half off the back wall. I'm surprised the bank didn't give way.”
To keep the residents safe, the four staff members, including Ms Everson, decided to start their rounds at 5am and organise showers but plans quickly changed.
"There was no water,” Ms Everson said.
"The mains water was cut off because of the big hole in the road which cut off all our water. Luckily at 3.30am I'd gone into the kitchen and peeled all the vegies and got as much done for lunch as possible so I could have food to cook.”
Ms Everson said having no water was a major issue but the residents didn't let it affect them, with many offering assistance.
"I had residents come into me saying 'what can we do?',” she said.
"So, I had them in the kitchen buttering toast, serving toast, serving meals to the other residents and clearing tables. They just wanted to help.”
Ms Everson said the flood had been the catalyst for friendships amongst the residents and staff that never existed before.
"The residents now yell and call across to each other in the dining room saying 'hello, how are you?',” she said.
"It's amazing the friendships and bonds that have formed from the disaster, it's been fantastic to see. They always say disaster always brings out the best in everybody.
"(The residents) all say even though it was a disaster and it was sad and it was difficult and scary, they know they've built these lasting friendships.”
Since the flood, Ms Everson said she had worked to ensure both staff and residents' mental health was looked after and had created a plan of action in case of another flood.
"After we did a counselling session, I had a debriefing session with the staff that were directly involved and asked for their feedback,” she said.
"I did a bit of a page report up of everything that happened and I got them to read it to come up with any suggestions of what we could have done better. The only thing really we came up with was having more bottled water. The only reason why we didn't have enough bottled water was because we lost water, so we had to use bottle water to make teas and coffees.
"So, come the months from January to May we're now going to stock up more on non-perishable items so we can whip up whatever we want and have more bottles of water and put into place more plastic cups.”
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