A selfless family in Queensland has been praised as “very special people” after providing shelter to dozens of families when their neighbours were forced out of their homes due to rising floodwaters.
Alicia and Kurt Populin took in about 60 local residents, as well as their pets, at their two-storey home in Idalia, Townsville, on Sunday night as their homes began to fill with floodwater.
Ms Populin’s sister, Clara McCarthy, was one of the many who rushed to seek help from her sibling alongside her young family as the water began to surpass knee-level.
Also in a two storey property, Ms McCarthy had already welcomed in one family to her home when the water levels began to take control of her home.
She called her sister to see if they could move over.
“She told me ‘Of course you can, I’ve already got eight families here’,” Ms McCarthy told Yahoo7 News.
With her husband carrying her 11-month-old son, they made the short trip several doors down before witnessing what she describes as “remarkable” scenes.
“We walked in to a full house and there was my sister so calm, making sandwiches, teas and coffees and making sure everyone was comfortable.”
Taking advantage of the dry conditions of the family’s second floor, more than a dozen children set up camp in the theatre room with whatever pillows and duvets Ms Populin could find.
Ms McCarthy later took to Facebook to thank her sister for her remarkable act while sharing a photo of the rescued children watching a movie during the storm.
She told Yahoo7 News it was her sister’s selfless personality that meant all 63 of her guests were properly looked after.
“She gave her daughters bedroom to an elderly couple. She then gave her own bedroom to another family with a two week old baby,” Ms McCarthy said.
“She was just incredible and that is not an understatement. She has been described a local hero and I would have to agree with that.”
With more families arriving to the home via a neighbour’s boat, the mother-of-two said there was never a point where she felt she had to turn people away as the number of occupants began to swell.
But as the rain continued to lash Townsville and the water levels rose, the families began to fear for their safety.
As water began to seep into the garage of the home, their regular contact with the SES became more frequent.
“We were feeling terrified. We were just thinking this house could go under and we have all these people in here,” Ms McCarthy revealed.
Soldiers responsible for rescue mission ‘incredible’
With the SES overwhelmed with call outs, it wasn’t until late into the night that the army began rescuing families and taking them to dry land.
At about 2am there was a sigh of relief for the families in Ms Populin’s home as 14 boats were seen in the distance heading in their direction.
The families were loaded into the boats one by one, but they were far from safe just yet as they battled treacherous conditions.
With her baby wrapped in a blanket, Ms McCarthy tried to keep her children calm by singing to them.
“I felt like the mother in the Titanic scene singing to her children as the ship is coming down. I was that terrified it was the worst experience of my life,” she explained.
“I just wanted to be safe, I just wanted my babies to be safe.”
The soldiers were able to bring the families to drier lands before they were loaded into trucks to be taken to temporary accommodation.
“The soldiers were incredible. They were standing waist deep and not in waterproof uniforms. They were drenched, they were carrying us, protecting us in croc-infested waters. They made us feel so safe.”
Ms McCarthy said it was moments later a remark from one soldier brought her to tears after she thanked him for his help.
“He just replied, ‘Ma’am this is my job and this is why I signed on the dotted line.'”
“And I just thought you are my hero.”
Local community hails ‘a hero’
The local community, including Ms Populin’s employers, took to social media to express their gratitude for her act of kindness.
“You would not have found a more warm and welcoming home and family to have helped you through,” her employer, La Petite Boudoir, a children’s fashion boutique, wrote on Facebook.
One family who had been taken in by the Populins echoed their sentiments with a heartfelt message.
“On behalf of the Lucero family we would like to thank your family for providing us with food, shelter, support and kindness,” they wrote.
“We appreciate all that you have done for all of us in the neighbourhood. God bless you and your family.”
Another family said without their generosity it would have been “a completely different result.”
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