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  • Writer's pictureKsenia Wagensveld

Call to the Mud Army to plan ahead

Thank goodness for the amazing volunteers who arm themselves with shovels and hoses and help all those impacted get their lives back in order. My personal recollection of the 2011 Brisbane Flood disaster involves myself being 7 months pregnant with my daughter and taking my 6 year old step son, buckets, shovels, disinfectant and reels of chux to a mates at Bulimba to help scour out his bottom story. My husband couldn't be there because he was cleaning up at his workplace where tonnes of palleted concrete had been wet, set, collapsed the racking and needed to cleaned out one skip at a time.

It reminds me of how ill prepared so many well meaning folk were.

I thought I'd take the opportunity to remind well meaning volunteers of what some of the hazards might be, so you can be well prepared. One of the main things to remember about flood waters are that they can carry anything in them. I mean anything.


When that much water hits underground sewerage systems there's nowhere for it to go. It can't be pumped away fast enough to stop pits overflowing. So that's right- live sewerage which contains a plethora of bacteria from solid and liquid waste and a myriad of unknown contaminants may be coating everything you touch. All that mud mixed with sewerage spraying away and contacting skin, eyes, mouths, airways could infect any open wounds causing serious infections including boils, cellulitis, tetanus, cause disasterous systemic infections such as gastroenteritis, dystentary or hepatitis. So avoid direct contact with the use of proper Personal Protective Equipment. Cover any wounds and as much of your skin as possible, with disposable coveralls and gloves. If you have one, wear a face mask or shield, and definitely protective eye wear. Be careful when using pressured water and avoid creating mists of the waste that can be inhaled or ingested. Check your vaccination status for Tetanus and Hepatitis!

Unstable waste piles

Collections of trees and other floating debris landed wherever the water took them. These piles can be incredibly unstable so don't get on top of them to clear them, and watch for the natural fall of the materials. If you dig away from a pile you may create a ledge of material that can collapse on somebody.

What lies beneath?

Anything and everything. There may be sharps in the mud from contaminated sewerage, broken steel or glass, splinters and any kind of rubbish floating away. The risk of cuts and penetrations is quite high. Make sure you're wearing protective footwear and gloves. Move things carefully using tools wherever possible.

Soggy building materials might include old asbestos containing materials (ACM). Keep any fibrous materials you are unsure of aside and wet until they can be wrapped and disposed of. Maybe a bin full of water... Try not to move them if that is possible and cover with plastic to prevent other people touching or moving them. Don't touch them at all without full PPE including a P2 respirator.

Living things have also been washed into the flood waters. There may be snakes hiding in piles, marine animals that have been swept on to land and there's still water around, there's been some great footage of bull sharks moving into flood waters for a good feed.

If you still can't see the ground, don't assume it's there. We've all seen the potholes, the manhole covers washed away, and there's potential for landslides, subsidence and sink holes.


Broken and unstable powerlines and possibly movement of underground services could put you in the line of electric current. Check that any poles (or tress for that matter), appear to be stable. If you're not sure, wait for somebody that is. You don't want one coming down while you're working around it. If there's obviously a fallen powerline, wait until you have confirmation that the line is dead. DON'T under any circumstances go near a fallen powerline, especially while everything is wet. Electricity is very unforgiving and it only takes a small amount of current to pass your heart to make it stop. Depending on where the current leaves your body and earths you can also suffer very painful burns.

Physical Labour

If you're not used to physical labour you can find yourself fatiguing quickly and experience muscle soreness. Be kind to your body, and take frequent breaks, check your posture, adjust and change positions frequently. Think about whether you're putting your big strong muscles to work, or overworking the smaller ones. You don't want a weekend of being a good Samaritan knock you out of your work and leisure routines for weeks.

Heat & Fatigue

It is so darned HOT out there. With humidity so high the 'apparent' temperature is much higher, and you will overheat quickly. Sweat will run down your face instead of evaporating and cooling you down. Be prepared with lots of drinking water. Start your day well hydrated, and continually top up through the work day. 1litre of water per 25kg of body weight is the base line. You'll then need to replenish the lost water on top of that. Check the colour of your urine as an indicator, any darker than pale straw and you haven't been drinking enough.

If you're being physical you will need to eat too. Keeping up your energy will be important so that you stay aware and can pay attention to other things that might come up and potentially harm you. But remeber if you are eating... WASH YOUR HANDS with clean water and soap. I mean really, really well. Remeber you were just digging up mess coated in sewerage and soil!

Personal Hygiene

At the end of the day you'll need to get yourself clean for your own health and the health of your people at home. When you're disrobing, clean yourself down as much as possible before removing any PPE. Pull any clothes or PPE off by turning them inside out as you pull them off. This is so you're only touching the clean side as you disrobe. Dispose of contaminated items inside out and wrapped. If you're throwing things in the wash, wash them seperately from other clothes and ensure there's been a good rinse after the wash, so you can be confident all contaminants have been removed from the clothes and your washing machine.

Don't touch your face or any foodstuffs until you have really scrubbed those dirty little hands with antbacterial wash.

So thanks Mud Army for your awesome community spirit and hard work. The communities of the flooded need you, and they need to keep you safe and well for the next big wet.

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