Wageningen lecturer Gorben Pijlman spent four years doing research in Brisbane, the city facing the biggest floods in its history.
What did you do in Brisbane?
'As a virologist I did my doctoral research at the university of Queensland, on tropical viruses. I have been back for three years, but I am still in touch with many people, both as friends and as colleagues. Two of my students are there right now on internships.'
How are they faring?
'One of them has just finished and, luckily, has gone to New Zealand for a holiday. I have not been able to contact the other one. I do know that her house is on a hill, and so is the place where she is an intern, the Queensland Institute for Medical Research.'
Have you heard from friends and colleagues?
'Yes. I know, for example, that the city centre will probably have its power supply cut off today, as a precaution. Some of my friends live in houses known as Queenslanders, which are built on stilts so as to let the wind blow under them. They have a little more protection against the water. But of course it shouldn't come over the threshold.'
Do you know how things are at the university?
'The campus of the University of Queensland has been closed for fear
of the water. Some of my former colleagues are extremely worried about it. You cannot evacuate an experiment just like that. To make matters worse, a lot of sensitive apparatus is located precisely in the cellar. So as well as all the human suffering and material loss, science may suffer too.'
Did no one see this coming?
'I remember that we sometimes used to go out to the Regatta Hotel, and that people used to say that it was particularly well-built because it had survived the floods of 1974. So yes, there have been floods before, but they have been largely wiped from the collective memories. My friends were born around 1974 and only know about it from hearsay.'