Family forced to swim to safety as floodwaters rose around their motorhome

A nomadic family currently living in Townsville have described the frantic ordeal as they were forced to swim to safety as floodwaters quickly rose around their motorhome.

Peter and Allison Cairns, who sold their home in 2005 and moved into a motorhome nicknamed ‘The Gauntlet’, were with 10 of their twelve children, aged between two and 18 years old, on Sunday when they felt they had to flee.

Mrs Cairns said they had been trying to grab a few things from the bus, but the water rose rapidly.

“You could watch it rising, that’s how quick it was coming up,” she recalled to Yahoo7 News, adding when she stepped out of the motorhome it was up to her shoulders.

“[With] the rate of the water coming up, we thought it would have come up to the roof (of the bus) easily.”

The family in Queensland made their way to higher ground, ensuring the children and pets were safe as the water was rising rapidly. Source: Supplied
The family in Queensland made their way to higher ground, ensuring the children and pets were safe as the water was rising rapidly. Source: Supplied
The family said the water rose very quickly. Pictured above is inside their motorhome. Source: Supplied
The family said the water rose very quickly. Pictured above is inside their motorhome. Source: Supplied

They swam with all the children to a toilet block on higher ground, helping the little ones who were not able to make it on their own.

Mrs Cairns had their crested cockatoo on her shoulder as she swam.

They also had their three budgies in a cage and two dogs which had to be helped.

But when they arrived at the toilet block they were not sure it was high enough to stay dry.

“We just started to get worried as it was coming up either side of me,” Mrs Cairns recalled.

During the night the water rose above the bull bar. Source: Supplied.
During the night the water rose above the bull bar. Source: Supplied.

They inflated a blow-up boat at the toilet block and Mr Cairns used it to take their youngest children to rescuers at a nearby McDonald’s.

The rescuers brought another boat to pick the rest of them up while Mr Cairns swam with their bigger dog to a waiting truck as the pet would not get into the rescue boat.

The family were then transported in a four-wheel-drive to a tip truck before they ended up at a shopping centre where they stayed overnight.

The family were taken to a shopping centre where they stayed on Sunday night with their pets. Source: Supplied
The family were taken to a shopping centre where they stayed on Sunday night with their pets. Source: Supplied

A community centre was then opened up next door where they stayed for a couple of days.

“The whole time we’ve been on the road for 15 years, this has been the most terrifying,” Mrs Cairns said.

“Everyone we’ve spoken to went through the same thing, they all said they got caught.”

The family is very grateful they are okay.

“The main thing was we’ve got our kids and our pets,” the mother said.

The two parents, 10 children and six pets stayed at the shopping centre on Sunday night, along with many other residents of the area. Source: Supplied
The two parents, 10 children and six pets stayed at the shopping centre on Sunday night, along with many other residents of the area. Source: Supplied
A recent image of Peter & Allison Cairns with 11 of their children. Source: Supplied
A recent image of Peter & Allison Cairns with 11 of their children. Source: Supplied

Injured daughter ‘distraught’

While this was going on, one of their daughters, 19-year-old Beaudine, was in the hospital.

She has been in care for most of the time since July last year, and has had numerous infections and operations after a stick went into her leg while she was swimming at a waterfall in Katherine, in the Northern Territory.

Her injury was said to be about the size of a 20-cent piece, but some shards of wood were embedded throughout her skin.

“Just trying to save her leg basically and along with that she just got over having sepsis and she wasn’t in a good way,” her mother said.

“She was operated on the day the bus was pulled out. We couldn’t get to see her. She was distraught.”

Mr Cairns said the ground was so soggy, even about four or five days before the flooding, that an excavator would not have pulled their motorhome out of where it had been parked.

The couple added this it was the first time they had ever been bogged and they have managed to avoid floods until now as well.

The family is very grateful for the help they have received from the army and local community and plan to give money they have received to those who need it more. Source: Supplied
The family is very grateful for the help they have received from the army and local community and plan to give money they have received to those who need it more. Source: Supplied

Fortunately for the family, the army dragged their motorhome out of the mud on Wednesday and while they have lost belongings they are hopeful about their bus’s future.

“Going through it now and it looks like we’ll be able to keep the old girl,” Mr Cairns said.

“It’s a part of the family… we’ll never get rid of it.”

They are optimistic they will be able to get the motorhome going again.

But added they have got “a hell of a lot of work” ahead of them “just like everyone else around here”.

A Gofundme page was set up for the Cairns family, and they have now said they want to use the money to give to those who helped them throughout the week and to assist anyone else who might need it.

“I can’t get over the people, what they’ve done,” Mrs Cairns said, while her husband added: “The Queensland spirit is alive up here.”