STRONG BOND: Frances and Ken Arndt at their home in Grantham, which they rebuilt after the devastation of the 2011 floods.
STRONG BOND: Frances and Ken Arndt at their home in Grantham, which they rebuilt after the devastation of the 2011 floods. Tom Threadingham

Fate directs the Arndts' survival story

CLINGING to a tree while the raging flood washed a shipping container toward them, Ken and Frances Arndt said their final goodbyes.

But - somehow - the elderly Grantham couple survived.

Debris had redirected the swiftly flowing water and the shipping container changed course.

Like so many fateful moments on January 10, 2011, luck reached the Grantham couple just in time.

They escaped their sinking ute whose electric windows miraculously worked after a wall of water hit them at high speed.

The water "picked us up like a cork" and washed them away but the pair managed to scramble up into a copse of trees.

When rescuers lifted them to safety Ken said his arms were "jelly", he couldn't get off the floor.

Rescuers had spotted them after a man winched to safety from the roof of his house saw the couple and directed the helicopter to their refuge.

"The blades parted the leaves and they could see us in the tree," Ken said.

Others weren't so lucky.

Mention the freak storm to Frances and anguish springs to her voice as she recalls Grantham families who lost loved ones, including her neighbour whose wife and two children died.

"The fire brigade chap... he lost his wife right in front of our place out here, in the fire truck with the two little kids," Frances said, her voice shaking.

"Whenever I start talking about the floods that comes back to me and brings back a lot of sad memories.

"You wonder why we were saved and those poor little kids weren't."

Like many Grantham residents Frances, 72, and Ken, 79, have fought insurance companies and eventually rebuilt their home, but lost many possessions.

Ken estimates $500,000 in machinery and timber was destroyed, wondering aloud how many people have sheds full of valuable equipment and goods they never insure.

A former timber cutter, Ken had made tables and outdoor settings out of red cedar but now busies himself with his hobby vegetable farm.

The vulnerability he experienced on that day will never been forgotten and he still has bad dreams.

"The dreams always seem to be walking up hill running away from water or something," he said.

"I'm still down in the dumps."

The ferociousness of the current and the suddenness of the storm that preceded it had taken everyone in Grantham by surprise, Frances said.

A policeman friend had taken a reading of objects moving in the flood from his speed camera and had estimated its flow was about 80km/hr.

"You couldn't swim against, it, it was so strong," Ken said.

"It was horrifying," Frances said.

"It happened so quickly... you just couldn't comprehend it really.

"Grantham - we didn't have any warning. Brisbane had warning but we didn't."

Adding to the drama, the couple were reported by authorities as missing and presumed dead because of a mix-up when they registered at Helidon, Frances said.

Their children were distraught, Frances said, until they contacted them via Facebook.

"People couldn't believe what was going on and there was just a hell of a big mess," she said.

"We were sort of caught unawares, which is why we had the highest death rate in Grantham."

Twelve people from the small town of just 300 died in the floods on January 10, 2011.

While the memories are grim and their lives are forever changed, Frances and Ken have rebuilt on the same lot of land and Frances believes the storm was a "freak of nature" unlikely to happen again.

And it wasn't all bad, Ken admits. Mud deposited from the floods have grown some of the largest vegetables he's ever grown.