Family dream in tatters

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 12:00 31/01/2013
Cox family cyclone

SUDDENLY HOMELESS: Matt and Lynne Cox and their son Alex, 8, have lost their home, which was swept out to sea in the devastating Queensland floods.

Cox family cyclone
SWEPT AWAY: With their house boat still attached to its moorings, the Cox family could do nothing but watch as their belongings were washed away.

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A Kiwi family caught in Queensland's deadly floods have told how they lost their livelihood and their elderly neighbour after their house boat was swept out to sea in the tail of a cyclone that has ravaged the state.

Lynne and Matt Cox, and their son Alex, 8, moved from Levin to Bundaberg three years ago with visions of a sunny, coastal lifestyle. At midnight on Saturday, their paradise turned to a nightmare.

Their lives are now in tatters after floodwaters on Sunday morning washed away their uninsured trimaran yacht, with their belongings still inside, including an urn containing Mrs Cox's mother's ashes.

Incredible images of their house boat, Osho, as it was washed away still attached to its mooring in the Midtown Marina on the Burnett River, are among the footage of the disaster being broadcast around the world.

Speaking from Australia, Mr Cox said the storm that gripped the coast at midnight last Saturday escalated faster than the residents of the Midtown Marina had expected.

It ended up costing their neighbour his life.

The storm began to hammer the coastline at 10pm on Saturday. There was no radio announcement, no maritime warning - just instinct that it was time to "get the hell out", Mr Cox said.

"The debris was awe-inspiring, the size of some of the logs, the debris that comes from nowhere."

As the family took their fourth load of belongings from boat to car, the river levels reached shoulder height.

"I was holding Lynne's hand and Alex was on my back like a little papoose with his arms around my neck just holding on," Mr Cox said.

With only four bags of clothing, a phone and a laptop retrieved and everything else they owned, including their passports, still on board, the family had to make a tough call.

"We had a conversation that was somewhat impassioned ... We thought, what are we going to do? ... Do we give the boat a nudge down-stream or let it go? We decided to abandon.

"It was the hardest decision I have ever made in my life."

One of their neighbours decided to stay on his boat and was carried away - fortunately to safety.

"He said it was the scariest ride he's ever had, bumping into debris, the river going so fast," Mr Cox said.

Another elderly neighbour who was trying to retrieve his belongings from his yacht in the surge was not so lucky.

"I heard a scream but we don't know whether that was an expletive or what. We didn't know his boat was going but the way that river was going he wouldn't have survived 50 metres, that river was horrendous," Mr Cox said.

The family later learned through news reports that the man's body was pulled from the water at Burnett Heads on Sunday morning.

Expecting "the storm from hell", Mr Cox had made his boat watertight, but watching it float away still attached to the mooring the morning after the storm, his hope that it would survive faded.

He flew over the wreck almost 40 kilometres out to sea yesterday and had little hope their belongings would be salvageable.

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"The destruction reminded me of flying over the Manawatu all those years ago in the [2004] floods," he said.

"It's bow down, it's completely stuffed, everything that was on the deck is gone. It's almost enough to turn a heathen religious."

The Coxes' daughter Greer Dorne, in Levin, called the moment her family abandoned their home in a "heart-wrenching decision".

"All the sentimental stuff, the kids' photos from when we were little - all of that stuff will be under water," she said.

The family had repeatedly failed to find an underwriter who would insure the trimaran at an affordable rate.

They have since received government assistance in Australia which has been specially extended to Kiwis, and are staying with a friend inland.

- Manawatu Standard

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