Peta Doherty and Nicky Phillips
IT IS almost unimaginable the fear 13-year-old Jordan Rice would have felt as the car he and his family were in was pummelled by a wall of water.
But as it began engulfing the vehicle, Jordan, who could not swim himself, insisted his younger brother, Blake, 10, be rescued first.
It was a heroic gesture. One that cost him his life.
And, like so many others who have risked their lives to save strangers, it almost cost the life of one of the rescuers, Warren McErlean.
Mr McErlean thought he got it wrong when he saw a water gauge on a street in Toowoomba rise 20 centimetres in 10 seconds on Monday afternoon.
Five minutes later he was clinging to a pole, dodging cars and wheelie bins after he risked his life to try to save the Rice family.
While Blake was rescued, Jordan and his mother, Donna, 43, perished when they were swept away in the flood.
”When I first saw the car the water was up to the number plate,” Mr McErlean, 37, a Toowoomba builder, told the Herald.
”I thought I would push it backwards but by the time I walked 20 metres, it [the water] was up on the bonnet and coming up the windscreen.”
Mr McErlean grabbed a rope, tied one end to a post, the other around his waist and set out to rescue the woman and two boys but the fast-moving water swept him downstream.
Another rescuer, known only as Chris, pulled Mr McErlean to safety before tying the rope to himself and approaching the car to grab Jordan.
But Jordan wanted his brother to go first so Chris took Blake, handing him to Mr McErlean part way across before heading back to the car.
”I had the boy in one hand, the rope in the other. I wasn’t going to let go but then the torrent came through and was pulling us down,” Mr McErlean said.
”Then this great big tall fellow just came out of nowhere, bear hugged us and ripped us out of the water.
”When I got back I turned to look at the guy [Chris]. He looked at me and we knew it was over. The rope snapped and the car just flipped.”
Chris, who had been holding Jordan’s hand until it was torn from him, flew metres in the air before locking his legs around a post in the centre of the road, said Mr McErlean.
”The others were just gone, just disappeared,” he said.