Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Queensland Flash Floods

imageAs a guy who grew up in dry SA, the idea of floods were never that high on my radar as things to worry about. Sure I lived on the Murray River in a little town called Mannum, but when the river broke its banks there was always a lot of warning and not too great a danger.

Last month Mannum was inundated with rainfall (nearly half its annual amount in one night) and there was flash flooding. Fortunately no one was hurt, but driving around the area when I went home for Christmas was an eye opening experience – the water had flowed through places I had never even known was a dormant creek bed.

While it had done great damage to crops, fences and walls, for the most part it was just a curiosity – something for locals to talk about in years’ hence whenever a big rainfall occurs.

But what happened yesterday in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley is just beyond comprehension.

It is no amusing thing for people to say “oh yes, well remember the flood of 2011 – that was a big one”. It is a tragedy on par with the Victorian bushfires.

When I was young I used to think that I’d much rather be in a flood than a bushfire because floods are “predictable” and so long as you don’t do anything stupid – like try to cross a flooded road, you would be fine. However when you see the vision of the Toowoomba floods, you know that there is nothing predictable going on; it’s not a case where using just good common sense will see you through. When you have to sit on the roof of your house to avoid being killed, you know things are not natural.

There are many astonishing images and video footage of the floods – for me this is about the most illustrative:

Toowoomba floods

One very stark illustration of just how quick and brutal was the wall of water that came through the Lockyer Valley is this graph from the Bureau of Meteorology plotting the height of the Lockyer Creek at Helidon (a town just west of Grantham)


The latest reading had it going from 4 metres to around 13 metres in all of a a few minutes. Imagine a river rising 9 metres that quickly – imagine as well where all that water will go. Reports are also in that the height of the flood at Gatton (just a bit further east) is at 18.92m. That is just plain scary and you only hope and pray that people can stay safe.

Last night Anna Bligh gave a press conference on the ongoing state of affairs. It was clear she was just about spent – emotionally and physically. It had no doubt been a very long day that was only going to get longer, but her performance at the press conference was excellent. Premiers during natural disasters are always required to be at the fore – emergency services, police etc are state government responsibility not federal and so PMs generally don’t have a lot to do at such time.

When things are so dire, what people need from their leader is someone who appears in control, have the information they need and is across the problems. The people need confidence that things are in hand. She gave that to the people of Queensland. She used plain speaking and didn’t try to milk the event for hyperbole (even though hyperbole was apt in this case). Her polling may be dire and she’ll probably lose the next election, but at this moment in time she stood strong as a leader should.

This morning she gave a press conference that suggested the speech writers had a bit more of an input when she said:

This weather might be breaking our hearts but it will not break our will...

It is a good line, though – leaders also need to inspire.

For the rest of us the best we can do is, like we did for the Victorian bushfires, donate as much as we can.  A good place to start is the Premier’s Flood Relief Appeal.


Sonia said...

Like you Grog I always thought a bushfire was much worse but the relentlessness of the rain puts this right up there. Hopefully there wont be the same loss of life as the bushfires but damage the property is beyond comprehension. People and business' will be rebuilding their lives for months/years to come. My thoughts are with the people of Queensland and I pray that the rain stops so the clean up can begin

Andos said...

I had that exact same thought this morning, Grog (Vic bush fires); hopefully this event won't see the same loss of life.

Considering that the situation re Toowoomba/Lockyer valley and Brisbane is still developing and not wanting to be inappropriate today, I'd still like to say that we need to pressure the Federal Government to commit to increasing spending to repair the damage caused by these floods. Unfortunately, the PM hasn't yet committed to this and is maintaining her distressing rhetoric about returning to budget surplus.

Bill Mitchell wrote an important blog post on Friday about why the Federal Government must step in: http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=13059

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that video link Greg. It was the clearest illustration I have seen of what happened - and how fast it happened. Cat

alistair baillieu-McEwan said...

If we didn't have the vile Federal Opposition ready to pounce on any suggestion the budget won't be "returned to surplus" (i.e. apparently a state of nirvana) asap. then perhaps a committment to spend whatever it takes may have been appropriate. But we do have the bottom-dwellers seeking a wedge in any possible way to gain a political advantage - doesn't matter over how many dead or damaged bodies, so however inappropriate I might think a reference to a budget surplus in the context of discussing the disaster may be I can understand at some level why the Prime Minister answered the question about the budget surplus from the media during her media conference earlier as she did. There will be enough recriminations over every little aspect of the floods as it is without adding another red herring.

On another aspect - the psychological aftermath of the Victorian bushfires is still affecting many of those involved - even those on the periphery. Let's hope a lesson has been learned that disaster relief must include some form of de-briefing and psychological support for those caught up in them.

sam said...

I wnat to know from Senator Joyce just how big a dam he would build to stop the flooding in rain events like this? Where would he locate it?
There are words for people like him but I try not to write them.

Oolon Colluphid said...

I have no words to register my shock and dismay. None fit to post, anyway.

Kyna62 said...

At times like this I stand in awe of our emergency services workers, both paid and unpaid.

Especially the volunteers who don't get paid for what they do.

Lost for words and finding it difficult to describe just how awesome I think these volunteer workers are without sounding fan-girlish.

Steve Szetey said...

As a resident of Kinglake and a survivor of the Black Saturday bushfires I can only hope that the death toll is not replicated in the floods at Queensland.

I know that recovery from a disaster such as this will take years, not weeks or months. Financially, physically, emotionally and psychologically.

It is too early to start commenting on the financial commitments that will be required by both State and Federal Governments to assist all affected communities in recovering from this disaster. And I only hope this does not become a political issue. Or one that is pounced upon by ignorant commentators.

I feel for you all up there.

Rowan said...

I'm sitting here in my apartment, waiting with trepidation to see if the flood waters will come into my basement, which means the electricity will be cut off. My building was flooded in 74, but only in the basement, and I'm on the 3rd floor, so I am lucky. I can't go anywhere as I can't leave my cat---I don't have a car, but even if I did I'd be v hesitant about trying to get anywhere as I'd be afraid of getting stranded.

We drove through Toowoomba two weeks before Christmas to visit my sister in law in Oakey (she had her baby on 30 December, so I'm a first time auntie!!!), it was a truly frightening experience. My SIL told me that even though it's on top of a pretty high hill, it was a swamp before a city was built there, and the drains have never been adequate to clear storm water. As we were heading home, a deluge came, and the two outside lanes of the main road through Toowoomba became all but impassable as we drove through. When I saw the footage from Toowoomba, I was not at all surprised, and extremely thankful that didn't happen to us.

However, apart from the flash flooding, a flood is way less scary than a bushfire, if all else fails, you can usually get on the roof of your house and be safe, if miserable. The loss of life is usually much less, and most people don't lose absolutely everything. On the down side, most insurers do not automatically insure for flooding (yay Suncorp, one of the exceptions!) We do have a bit of an impending sense of doom as we wait, but I hope that the levels have been overestimated and it won't be worse than 74 (which I still dimly remember)

Meanwhile, we have stocked up on food, water, and esp alcohol (my flatmates made a run to the bottle shop earlier today! one local bottle shop ran out of stock!), and we are busy cooking and juicing up our laptops and phones in case of power outages. My biggest fear for myself is boredom, but as we have an evacuation centre near us, I'm thinking of going over there tomorrow to volunteer my help to stop going stir crazy!

Cheers all!

Greg Jericho said...

Hope all stays safe for you Rowan.

Kyna62 - yep the volunteers deserve all the plaudits they get.

Fezzex I fear the flood will become politicised - talk of budget blowouts, need for dams and scrapping the NBN to pay for the response have already cropped up.

Pip said...

These floods defy description and we can only hope there is no more loss of life, although that may be a vain hope considering the numbers of missing.
What an amazing group are the emergency workers, God bless them all, or a Higher Power or whoever.
Rowan, stay safe.
Andos, the Prime Minister and Qld. Premier are concentrating on the present dangers and you can be sure there will be massive Federal funding when the waters subside and the picture becomes clearer. Premier Bligh has been outstanding.
So far I have seen comments from one editor of a smaller outlet banging on about how the PM doesn't sound sincere. She is going to Brisbane tomorrow although I get the feeling that she would not want to get in the way at this point in time. She was asked repeatedly when she would go, with just a hint that she should be doing more.
She can't win with some people.
One of the first questions the PM was asked was about the Budget surplus. What next, her jacket didn't match her hair!!!
After cyclone Tracy the Defence forces were sent to Darwin to assist with the clean-up and were there for months. The Federal Govt. played a big part in the re-building and I'm sure the same will happen in Queensland.
Sam, I think Barnaby Joyce fought against the building of a dam somewhere a few years ago. Funny that.
Alistair, unfortunately I don't think we can expect any better from "the vile Opposition", even today Tony Abbott was talking about holding the Govt., to account but he "wouldn't be politicising the situation". What a surprise.
Grog it's always a pleasure to read your blog, but this time it's a very tragic story.

Darryl said...

Rowan, the RNA showgrounds evacuation centre will let you take pets, and the RSPCA is organizing people to board animals during the crisis. See http://www.qldfloodpetoptions.com.au/

emjar said...

Dear Grog-Well summed up as usual. I agree with you -Anna Bligh is demonstrating true leadership.Although obviously exhausted, she is a very calm and impressive leader deferring to experts when required in the press conferences and not politicising anything. I have two siblings in this region: one in Rockhampton who lives on high ground but has been unable to get into Rocky for 2 weeks and reports that the stench is utterly revolting. The other is my sister and her family including small children who have been caught in Grafton on holiday and who cannot return to Brisbane to check their home. As she said though, at least they are all safe and well, and just a bit inconvenienced unlike the people of Grantham,Toowoomba et al. who have lost everything.Words cannot express the horror and long term effects of natural disasters and to think that some of these areas have recently come out of years of drought. Still that's Australia: land of extremes.

Rowan said...

Thanks all for good wishes. I was evacuated to a friend's place, but my building was not flooded, thankfully. My cat (Dorian Grey, because he's beautiful and grey!) is fine, but a bit skittish about the whole thing.

My partner is from Gympie, and worked and lived in the Darling Downs for several years before moving to Brisbane. His family is fine (some damage, but repairable) but he thinks he has lost friends at Murphy's Creek and Withcott; both towns are simply gone. They are missing, not confirmed dead, but we're not holding out much hope.

I take back what I said about not losing everything in a flood. I still think I'd rather face a flood than a fire (drowning as opposed to burning to death), but I see clearly that both are capable of absolute devastation.