Heroism in the Floods: A Courageous Tale of Sacrifice From a Submerged Australia

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It was a horrific scene that quickly spiraled out of control: A flash flood in Australia’s Queensland — in Toowoomba, to be exact — that caught most residents by surprise. As the waters rose, as panic set in, one 13-year-old sacrificed himself to save the brother he loved. By the next morning, he was being a hailed a hero. (via The Herald Sun)

The dramatic story of Jordan Rice begins Monday afternoon, shortly after lunch. Imagine you’re a teenager, and that your mother is driving both you and your little brother around your hometown. You are headed home to pick up your older brother. It’s your dad’s birthday and tonight you will all have dinner together.

There’s light rain outside and, yes, there’s flood warnings about both a river in the region and out east, in the regional capital. But all of that is 80 miles from your current location — in a different world.

Now imagine that you can’t swim, and you are quite scared of the water.

(More at NewsFeed: Dramatic photos of the Australia floods)

Things turned bad quickly Monday afternoon in Toowoomba when the engine inside the Rice family car gave out — leaving 13-year-old Jordan and 10-year-old Blake, along with mother Donna and her long-term partner, stranded at an intersection, submerged in water up to the car wheels. Dialing 000, emergency officials reportedly told the family to stay put. As the flash flood rapidly rose, they climbed atop the car, hoping to escape its reach.

So now imagine you are Jordan, that you and your family are on top of the car, watching the brown water mass — described as an “inland tsunami” — swell. Things are looking grim.

That’s when a semi truck driver nearby wraps a rope around himself and dives into the water. He’s determined to save you all, but as he first reaches for you, you say “Save me brother.” He reaches beyond you, and your little brother is whisked to safety. But then the man’s rope breaks, before he’s able to make it back. As the waters rise, the car tilts. You and your mother are swept downstream.

It’s a tragic tale of bravery and loss, known only thanks to the courage of numerous Australian rescuers, who went on to share the story. After the semi truck driver extracted Blake, his rope snapped, leaving the two clinging to a tree. That’s when other people stepped in, each helping to pull Blake to shore, before trying to reach the other stranded family members.

(More at NewsFeed: The Top 10 World News Headlines of 2010)

A local paper in the region has a gripping account of another local man who rushed to the scene to help, Warren McErlean. By all accounts, he was the first to dive in, but he was swept downstream. Chris, the other man leading the effort, untied McErlean and then secured himself in the same fashion, wrapping a rope around a pole. He was the one to dive in and reach Jordan, who immediately directed Chris to his brother instead.

Returning moments later to get Jordan, it was then that the situation collapsed. Chris was reportedly still holding Jordan’s hand when the car was flipped by the waves. Chris himself “flew meters in the air,” losing contact with Jordan. When Donna saw Jordan slip away in the stream, Chris said, she let go in a bid to reach him. Both quickly disappeared in the surging currents.

The Australian flood death toll, as of late Thursday afternoon local time, was 15 people. And with as many as 70 still missing, there’s fear that the count might actually be higher.

Still, Jordan’s bravery and selflesness has rallied the nation. A Facebook group established to honor Jordan’s memory has now registered more than 177,000 fans.