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A bank box full of documents is safe from water splashing all around it.

Before the Fire and After the Flood (Part 2)

There is a saying that sometimes, after a devastating event, people are left with “nothing but the clothes on their backs”.  After my parents’ house fire (described in Part 1 of this story) my father didn’t even have a shirt on his back because Mum had been cutting his hair. He only had a towel around his shoulders and tracksuit pants on.

All of their belongings and documents were lost

Not only did they lose all their belongings of their 80-plus years of life, but all their documents were destroyed. From drivers’ licenses, and birth and marriage certificates, to house title documents and insurance papers – they all went. They either burnt in the flames or were soaked by the firefighters’ hoses.

Re-establishing identities with visual impairments

People were very kind and generous in offering clothes and household items. The insurance eventually covered all the contents and rebuilding the house. But those documents! It’s difficult to re-establish two identities without any proof of who you are. And with their vision impairments, they couldn’t accomplish this themselves. It took almost as long to help them re-create their identities as it did to rebuild the house.

Having a disaster plan in place

After that fire, and when my parents returned to their reconstructed house, I realized that we should have a disaster plan in place, moving forward. Knowing that they both had AMD (Mum being legally blind with dry AMD and Dad having intermediate-stage wet AMD) this was vital, but we had never thought about it until now. “A bit late” one might say!

Storing important documents in a bank deposit box

Perhaps the most simple but useful change we put in place was to store all important and difficult-to-replace documents in a bank deposit box. Yes, we could only access them during business hours, and it was sometimes a bit inconvenient. We made do with photocopies and felt secure in the knowledge that these original documents would be safe. Not that anything disastrous was ever going to happen again, mind you...

Broken water pipe

Life went on a bit easier for a while in the newly rebuilt house. Things, however, were not going to stay easy for long. About five years later, trouble struck again. Whist my parents were not at home, a neighbor noticed water streaming out from under their front door. Worried that my parents were inside, she called the police who managed to open the door and establish that no-one was home.

A flexible pipe under the bathroom vanity upstairs had broken, and the water was pouring out of the bathroom, over the upstairs rooms, and down the stairs. This had probably started as a small leak they couldn’t see, and had escalated.

Completely flooded

By the time the police entered, the ceiling had collapsed on the downstairs bedroom and there was a hole in the floor that someone could fall through. The complete top floor was flooded, and the ground floor was quickly going the same way courtesy of the hole in the ceiling and the water pouring down the stairs. When my parents were located not far away having dinner, they were told they couldn’t go home, and once again they found themselves, courtesy of the insurance company, in a strange abode, this time a motel.

Navigating new equipment and appliances

They were experts at navigating new equipment by now, having mastered various appliances in the rented apartment after the fire. Now, in the motel after the flood, they managed the microwave with the help of bump dots once again for Mum. The laundry was taken to the laundromat. They ate out when they could for about four weeks. This was about the time it took for the plumbing to be attended to, the ceiling repaired, and the carpet replaced. The whole house had to be dried with industrial driers and some furniture replaced.

Protect your documents

This time, however, we had learnt at least one thing after the fire – protect your documents! Birth certificates, marriage certificates, and house title deeds, all replaced after the previous disaster, were safe in a bank deposit box. They were not destroyed again after the flood.

Most importantly, the insurance policy was stored at the bank too. It was brought out, dusted off and used once again. We did wonder, however, how much longer the insurance company would consider us to be desirable customers!

Was it before the fire or after the flood?

Whilst we moved on from these disasters, at family get-togethers we reminisce as all families do. We think about the good times and the bad. If we can’t remember when something occurred, we can still be heard to say “When did such-and-such happen? Was it before the fire or after the flood? Or was it in between?” We usually get it sorted out.

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