Photo: Emmellynn and her father-in-law Peter stand next to the remnants of their belongings.

By Josh Gibbon

With her seven-day-old daughter in arms, Emmellynn Cottrell and her family found themselves trapped in the second storey of their Chinderah home as floodwater lapped at the lounge-room steps.

Emmellynn, her husband Isaac, her father-in-law Peter, and her three daughters rationed food for three days as they waited for the water to recede after the Tweed River broke its banks during the height of the northern NSW flood disaster earlier this month.

Electricity was down, and communication with family and friends was limited due to patchy reception and waning battery levels on their phones.

“I was reassured that the water wouldn’t go up to the second storey, but it was just stressful with a newborn,” Emmellynn said. “You know, she’s a week old, so if something happened, there’s no hospital to get to.”

Emmellynn chose to be strong and non-anxious for her girls even though they felt quite scared by the situation. “My four-year-old gets stressed, so she was extra-stressed and emotional.”

A couple of weeks on, Emmellynn’s girls are still struggling to sleep, dreaming of monsters that sound like the thousands of croaking frogs that kept them up during the nights stranded by the flood.

Due to mould, walls had to be stripped back to the framework.

“So, since then, we’ve just had to keep reassuring them that they’re safe,” Emmellynn said. “I don’t know if it has actually hit me yet. The kids have been my focus, so I haven’t cried or anything.”

After the water drained out of the ground floor of their home, volunteers known as the ‘Mud Army’ quickly moved in to help clear out their waterlogged belongings. They sorted the Cottrells’ belongings on the front lawn, laying them out for Isaac and Emmellynn to see what they could salvage.

“At one stage, I was just peopled out because I was overwhelmed by people asking, ‘What do you need? What can we do?’

“And when you’re overwhelmed with everything, you just don’t know what to say. It was easier when people just came and did stuff because I didn’t want to tell people to clean up my mess.”

The Cottrells, who worship at Tweed Heads Church of Christ, primarily live on the ground floor of the home, so this flood has been a heavy blow, ruining almost all their belongings except, strangely, their two fish aquariums.

Like many in the Chinderah area, the Cottrells are uncertain how insurance companies will respond during this time and are caught in a waiting game until they find out. Many in this area could not afford the steep premiums for flood cover and must start from scratch again.

Every house in the neighbourhood has piles of ruined belongings on the front verge waiting to be taken away.

Despite this, Emmellynn says she has seen God’s provision even more clearly now than before the flood, and their needs are being cared for before they even ask.

She recounted how many people had offered them support and help – from a meal to a day’s work on their house.

A few days after the flood, a HelloFresh truck broke down on the highway filled with groceries. As the food wouldn’t keep, the boxes of meals were handed out around the Cottrells’ neighbourhood for free.

As Emmellynn shared these stories, the resilience of her faith, peace, and trust in God’s provision for her and her family struck me as transcending human understanding.

“God’s grace and provision has been really evident even with the flood. I’ve been meditating on that. Like, look God, you know we don’t have much money, we need to rebuild pretty much everything. But he’s just been providing. So, yeah, I’m not stressed about funds, which for me is huge.”

Emmellynn’s family and their neighbours will continue to rebuild their home for months and years.

As I left the Cottrells’ home, one question hung in my heart: how can we in Churches of Christ be the source of God’s provision to this family and many others in their area in the months and years to come?

GMP’s QLD & NSW Floods has already raised $131,000 for victims of the disaster. Please consider donating to support local churches who will be assisting their communities in the long-term recovery that will be needed. Donate HERE.