A recent flash flood in Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia caught most residents by surprise. As the waters rose and panic set in, one 13-year-old sacrificed himself so that his beloved younger brother could live.
The heroic story of Jordan Rice began Monday afternoon. Jordan and his 10-year-old brother Blake were in the car driven by their mum Donna and they were heading home.
It was drizzling outside and there had been flood warnings about both a river in the region and out east, in the regional capital, 80 miles from Jordan’s current location. So though Jordan could not swim and had always been scared of the water, the flood warnings did not bother him as he thought he was so far away from the danger zones.
The engine inside the Rice family car gave out — leaving Jordan and Blake, along with mother Donna, stranded at an intersection, submerged in water up to the car wheels. Dialing 000, emergency officials reportedly told the family to stay put. As the flash flood rapidly rose, they climbed atop the car, hoping to escape its reach.
Warren McErlean, a local builder, 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. As he first reached for Jordan, the 13-year-old boy said “Save my brother.” It was a heroic gesture, one that cost him his life.
So Chris took Blake, handing him to 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,” 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.”
Returning moments later to get Jordan, it was then that the situation collapsed. Chris was reportedly still holding Jordan’s hand when the car was flipped by the waves. Chris himself “flew meters in the air,” losing contact with Jordan. When Donna saw Jordan slip away in the stream, Chris said, she let go in a bid to reach him. Both quickly disappeared in the surging currents.
On Wednesday mother and son were buried in the same grave in matching white coffins during a ceremony in Toowoomba, west of Brisbane.
Paying tribute to Jordan at his funeral, Chris Rice, 22, said his brother was a “little hero” whose “heart, courage and love” had made the family fiercely proud.
Chris Rice noted that he had teased Jordan – nicknamed Weedsy – for being scared of water as a child.
“You were so shy, always hanging off Mum,” he said. “You were petrified of water, heights and even the dark. How wrong was I – here you go losing your life from one of your biggest fears to save your little brother.
“You made me so proud. What you did took heart, courage and love.
“You’re my little hero. I love you Weedsy. You will always be missed mate but I take comfort in the fact that you’ve got Mum there with you, taking care of you.”
John Tyson, Jordan’s father described Miss Rice, his partner of 28 years, as “the perfect mum”, while Jordan was “loving and very protective’.
“I don’t think I can put into words just how much I’ll miss them,” he said.
“The fire in my heart will continue to burn until my time comes to join them.
“God speed, my little angels.”
“I’ve accepted the fact that they’re not coming back but it doesn’t make it any easier.
“The pain and the grief are still there 100 per cent.
“The days seem to blur into each other. They say losing a child is the worst thing you could possibly experience but this is all that and more.”
Tyson said the support of family, friends and the close-knit Toowoomba community was the only thing holding him and his other three sons Kyle, 16, Chris, 22, and Blake together.
“If I didn’t have that, I’d still be curled up on the kitchen floor against a cupboard bawling,” he said.
“That’s not to say I’m not doing that but I’m trying to stay strong for my other boys.”
It was no surprise he has asked mourners to donate to the Queensland flood appeal instead of sending flowers.
Ten-year-old Blake, whose life was saved by Jordan, was one of the pall-bearers. Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral, including Warren McErlean, the rescuer who tried to save all three members of the family.
Tyson asked for his son’s coffin to be buried on top of Donna’s.
“It’s symbolic of him being in his mother’s arms,” he said.
“If there is one bit of comfort I can take out of the whole situation it is that neither of them will be alone.”
“Courage kicked in, and he would rather his little brother would live,” Jordan’s older brother Kyle, 16, said.
Jordan has emerged as a hero in Australia’s deadly floodwaters, his death captivating and rallying the nation. A Facebook group established to honor Jordan’s memory has now registered more than 177,000 fans. On Twitter, a wave of tweets have dubbed Jordan the “true hero” of the Queensland floods.
RIP, Jordan! You are in God’s kingdom now!