As 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:
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.