WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – Rob Costigan bought a rugged farm in rural Australia three years ago with the dream of building it into something he could leave behind for his children.
One year later, he needed to truck water to combat an extreme drought. Then, Australia’s deadly wildfires raged towards the end of 2019, forcing Costigan to spend day after day turning out coals and running sprinklers on its roof to save his home, in an eerie setting akin to Armageddon.
Then last week, on the day her daughter Eva was supposed to celebrate her 11th birthday, there came a flood. Thankfully, his family had left to live in his brother’s house.
The water roared with such force that it lifted both the Costigan farmhouse and the second home where her father-in-law lived from their foundation, destroying both of them. The family is still picking up toys and clothes that are strewn everywhere – they even found their barbecue gas bottle stuck in a tree.
“Just don’t believe it,” said Costigan. “It feels like the world is against us. You work hard and then everything is cleared away in the blink of an eye. “
Costigan, 40, a road maintenance worker whose ranch is in the Hollisdale community about a five-hour drive north of Sydney, said he was grateful he had managed to avoid yet another catastrophe so far – a plague of rats that affected several farms in the region. Maybe, he hoped, the flood could help wash them away.
Australia has always been a land of bad weather, where drought and fire are part of the nation’s soul. But experts say that global warming is likely to make recent weather events even more extreme. The forest fires that raged until early last year killed at least 33 people and destroyed more than 3,000 homes.
“This event was to be expected,” said Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales. “But climate change has put them on steroids.”
He explains that paradoxically, a warming atmosphere can exacerbate droughts and floods. The extra heat can suck more moisture from the soil during the dry season. But warmer air can also hold more moisture, he says, so when it rains.
Several cities in New South Wales have set record rainfall for 50 or 100 years over the past week. The floods have killed two people in separate incidents, both trapped in their cars, and have forced more than 20,000 people to flee.
Dale Ward this week tried to clean up the rented apartment he owns, and where his daughter and their family live, in the city of Windsor. He said he was mopping up the mud after about 1 foot (30 centimeters) of water ran out, destroying a box of photos and other memorabilia.
“It’s like someone dropped three tons of dirt on your house, and then dropped a bucket of water on it,” he said.
Ward estimates it will take at least a month to make the place habitable again, with plumbers and electricians needed to fix everything.
Elsewhere, people are still facing plague of rats. Last year in eastern Australia, months of rain doused wildfires and ended a drought that has crippled the region for more than two years. That led to overgrowth on many farms, and an explosion in the rat population.
Pompy Singh, manager of the Spar supermarket in the town of Gulargambone, said they were starting to see rat numbers increase before Christmas. They used to set one or two traps a day, he said. They began to buy much bigger traps and set more until they set 20 at a time.
Suddenly they catch 100 or 200 mice every day. The creatures began to eat everything from lettuce and potato chips to dog food and even tobacco. Singh says they started keeping everything in fridge or closed container.
Still, he said, the rats kept coming. Several days, they chased up to 600. Even the refrigerator kept breaking when the mice chewed on the wires. Singh said the number of rats appeared to have decreased somewhat since the floods hit, although they still caught a lot.
And Australia’s problems may not be over. Some experts have warned people to inspect their shoes and clothes for deadly spiders, as swarms of them seek protection from flood waters by moving into residential homes.
Meanwhile, Costigan says he wants to rebuild. He’s spent too much time putting up fences on his fields – many of which survived the floods – and making other improvements to give up now. He added that he moved his small herd of cattle to higher ground before the floods hit and they all survived.
Costigan said he feels lucky his farmhouse is insured and is also grateful to family members and neighbors who have contributed to online funding to help his family rebuild.
He says these kinds of problems all come with living in Australia, and may even explain why the British originally treated the continent as a place to send their captives.
“They think it’s hell on earth,” he said. “What they don’t realize is that it’s a beautiful part of the world.”