“When the landlord gave me the heads-up, it was like, this is serious; we had 20 minutes to get in and get out.”
Sole practitioner Louise Bedsor has recounted what happened when a devastating flood submerged her L&S Lawyers office in Mary Street, Gympie, at the end of last month.
She said rain had fallen in earnest in the days before the flood.
“We had 87mm on Thursday 24 February, 175mm on Friday 25 February and 220mm on Saturday 26 February,” she said. “And all the rain that falls up in Maleny and Montville on the Blackall Range comes down the Mary River.
“So we had the biggest flood since 1896 and the river went to 22.96m at 3am on Saturday the 26th. It completely inundated the three shops in our building.”
Fortunately, the landlord had telephoned with a warning of possible flooding the day before.
“We got in there straight away and we retrieved our wills and security documents and our three laptop computers, and that was really all we had time for because we had to get across the river back to our house because, as the river comes up, all the bridges flood.
“I also managed to save my framed degree – a most precious item! – practising certificate, two paintings (on loan from my mother) and my law clerk’s C.Dec certificates.
“When we got home (on the other side of the river) we received a council email to say that they were closing the Normanby Bridge.”
Everything left in the office was destroyed.
“We lost our desks, our chairs, our modem, our reception desk, our boardroom table and our boardroom chairs,” Louise said. “I lost a beautiful painting by my niece in reception – a 1.5 metre by 1 metre oil painting I couldn’t get out because it was too heavy.
“We lost the photocopier, the printer, and we lost our bookshelves, all of our old completed files (but not security documents), all of our current files that we’d printed out.
“However everything is digital; we keep everything linked through the cloud so we’re lucky that we’re digital as well as hardcopy – a bit old school, I still like the hardcopy stuff. We lost all our business records and all my accounting records, but they’re all online – Xero and Leap are great in regard to that.
“We’re lucky that we’re digital.
“We lost the fridge , all coffee things, our workstations and our compactus – it’s a write-off because it’s not rolling anymore , so basically we lost everything except our secure documents and our three laptop computers.”
Louise wasn’t able to return to the office until Tuesday 1 March.
“The water had gone by that stage,” she said. “It had flooded to the ceiling, which collapsed. So the building needs a complete refit – all the gyprock walls and ceilings, the aid-conditioning have to be replaced, all the electrical wiring’s got to be replaced, so there are big costs for the landlord’s insurer, and all of our contents are all gone. Thank goodness we have flood insurance, unlike some other businesses.
When Louise returned, law clerk Bradley helped her to shift all of the waterlogged client files to her garage – the pair took them away via the back door to protect their confidentiality as others began the clean-up.
“It’s been quite devastating,” Louise said. “We’ve just finished the big clean-up. There was absolutely wonderful support from the community and the staff – paralegals Leanne and Brenda – and family, friends, clients and other practitioners to clean it all up.
“It’s been quite amazing the way the whole community has come together – we’ve saved the insurance company heaps of money with the clean-up.
“They just came in and started shovelling up the dirt and the gyprock. The walls had to come down because they were all just mush, so it was a massive clean-up effort. Three skip bins later, the office has been pared back to just the frame and glass doors and windows.”
Louise said that retrieving the computers and the fact that the practice was digitally based meant it could resume work almost immediately.
“I put a message on our Facebook page to say that we were still available online; we could still handle all client files because they’re all digital, so we were still working while we were in there cleaning up last week,” she said. “I had the phone diverted on the Monday, so we could still take calls, and then I had the staff here at home answering the phone whilst we did the clean up.”
Louise said she had received emails from QLS and Lexon with advice which had proved helpful in the recovery process.
“It was only ‘stuff’, and we haven’t lost our Wills or any of our security documents,” she said. “That’s what I was really concerned about, the rest you can replace.”
Fellow local practitioner Angela Treichel was among those who came to Louise’s aid in the clean-up.
Angela’s AJT Lawyers had a close call, with flood water coming mere centimetres from her floor.
“Our office is on the top floor at 137a Mary Street,” she said. “The bottom floor of our office building contains a beauty parlour and photographer. and their premises was damaged along with most other businesses in Mary Street.
“We have also been out in the community helping other businesses clean up, including Louise. Our colleagues at Baldwins Lawyers (Stephen Brown and Zasco Van Rooyen) have been incredibly generous to offer us their boardroom for client meetings that could not be rescheduled or moved to Zoom.”
Angela said that, on the Friday, they cleared out of the office and reverted to working from home.
“At that stage everyone felt it was very unlikely for the water to get to our level,” she said. “However I took all of our safe custody records home as I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep if they were still there. I am very glad I did as it was dangerously close.
“We continue to work from home waiting for power and phone to be reinstated at our office and also to keep out of the way of clean-up crews still working in Mary Street.
“We are very lucky to have suffered little interruption to our business being that we are already well set up for remote work with the use of PEXA and cloud-based practice management software and we frequently use Zoom to attend with clients.”
John Teerds is the editor of QLS Proctor.