Friday, January 14, 2011

The Heartbreak of Queensland Floods (Australia)

Over the last three weeks, a combined area the size of France, Spain and Britain combined (or Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma for US readers) has been flooded in Australia’s north-eastern state of Queensland. Over 80 towns and cities, including the capital Brisbane has been seriously affected, many isolated with roads cut, changing the lives of 100,000s of people and flooding over 30,000 homes. Numerous people have been moved including the full evacuation of a number of towns.

Last week I returned to Sydney from a Christmas trip to Brisbane, where I grew up seeing the initial aspects of floods in rural Queensland but before waters in Brisbane started to rise. As with many Brisbanites, I can recall vividly the floods of 1974 as a ten year old, water lapping into the street that I lived, the community systematically evacuating people as the waters rose. Our house contained the furniture of three other houses, the local shops only having their rooftops sit above the flood waters.

News stories and photos start to purvey some of the hardship and cruelty of these floods including  Ipswich’s Queensland Times and Rockhampton’s Morning Bulletin. The photo to the right shows Rockhampton from the air taken by a commercial pilot with the city centre in the top right.

It is ironic that this same state (as has much of Australia) has suffered from one of the country’s worst droughts for the last decade, dams that were near empty are now brimming at well over 100 percent capacity, water lapping at the top of dam walls. Brisbane’s main water supply is held in Wivenhoe Dam holds over one billion litres when full (two Sydney Harbours worth) but now holds two billion litres (four Sydney harbours). A delicate balancing act of releasing water to maintain the effect of the dam but causing further flooding downstream is only one of numerous wretched decisions.

With water washing down the main streets of many towns, drinking water remains in short supply, water treatment works having suffered inundations. Power is cut to numerous areas, supermarket shelves are empty and fixed line telephones have often been down.

As the waters start to subside, people return to homes covered in mud and debris, a monumental cleaning effort confronting them.

Over $55 Million dollars has been donated by individuals and businesses of Australia and the volunteer effort has been extraordinary, people helping complete strangers evacuate, sandbag properties, clean debris or provide accommodation and meals. As always, the various emergency services groups, army and charities (especially Red Cross) have been unstinting in their work. Major summer sporting events have stepped in – cyclist Lance Armstrong leads a 10,000 ride through Adelaide on Saturday, tennis player Andy Roddick donated $100 per ace in a recent Brisbane tournament (the court ironically underwater now) and then doubled it and England and Australia playing a seven one-day match cricket series around the country with money raised going to the flood appeal. Along with the obvious effect, the money will greatly assist to rebuild communities and towns, local businesses benefiting from the employment and retail spend.

A previously deeply unpopular premier, Anna Bligh, has been exceptional in the state’s hour of need. Possibly in a parallel to Mayor Rudi Guiliani during the 9/11 tragedy, the state leader has been untiring in her efforts – two hourly press briefings including remarkable detail across aspects of numerous different towns and cities all unaided by notes. Bligh has struck a perfect chord between passion, leadership, pragmatism and care.

In one extraordinary heroic effort, a tug driver drove his boat up the raging Brisbane River in the middle of the night to safely steer a 150 metre, 300 tonnes floating walkway that detached from Brisbane's scenic River Walk through bridge pylons and into the bay, preventing a potential major catastrophe.

While 24-hour commercial TV coverage has been sensationalised and voyeuristic, the public ABC network on radio, television and the internet continues to provide stellar detailed coverage of evacuations, road conditions, safety advice and flood news across the state. The Twitter airwaves bubbles consistently (with hashtag #qldfloods) though sorting the truth from opinion and hearsay has caused some issues. Missing folks are being located via Facebook, though tragically around 50 people remain unaccounted for.

In many ways, the efforts have just started with years of work and billions of dollars to rebuild lives, homes, communities and businesses. January 2010 will be etched on the mind of many Australians for decades to come.

Editor's Note (19th January): The Queensland flood appeal has hit $85 Million and continues to grow. The estimated damages bill varies with $20 Billion regularly mentioned. The states of Victoria (mainly central and west) and Tasmania have also suffered horrifically from floods in the last week with further heartache for citizens of these states.


Jorie Pacli said...

I like your writing and thank you for sharing this post to us... I love Australia and I had been to Queensland before. I felt devastated about the wreckage this floods have really brought to this place now... I'll be praying that it'll get over soon and that people are able to get back into their lives despite everything...

Barbara Weibel said...

Hi Mark; Thank you for this factual, concise roundup. Sometimes being in the US is like living in a news blackout. We get so little international news and when we do it is a 10-second blip. I've really been wondering about the situation, especially since I have god friends down under. So sorry that you all have to go through this. It does seem that mother nature is raging these days. I will pray for all those who have lost their hoes, family members, livelihoods, etc.

Lifecruiser Travel Blog said...

Yes, it's really horrible. So sad to watch even from the other side of the globe! I feel for the people...

Sherry Ott said...

Mark - I'm so happy you covered this. I'm traveling so don't get to catch up as much on news as I'd like to. You did an excellent job of covering the main points and showing us what's really going on. I do hope that they can rebuild - but you are right - it will take years.

Anonymous said...

I am not currently in Australia but have been keeping up to date as best I can for affected areas as I have family and friends in QLD. The worst news is that now Victoria is also under water around the area where I grew up. Hopefully this will all stop soon.

Brandon Wilson said...

My heart goes out to everyone there. Such a devastating event, coupled with that in Brazil, Indonesia, Philippines and Sri Lanka, shows once again how none of us are immune to climate change. What can we do but help others and prepare for our own challenges as the earth attempts to shake us off, like a dog does fleas. Thanks for helping bring this to the world's attention.

Mark H said...

@jorie: Thank you for your thoughts. I know the wishes of many are with Queensland (and now Victoria and Tasmania) in this time of natural devastation.

@barbara: Thank you. I'd like to think it got more coverage than a few seconds of news...

@lifecruiser: The world shares more and moves closer in these more testing times.

Mark H said...

@sherry: Many communities have had to rebuild before. it takes time but will happen. Australia is fortunate that it is a country that is rich in resources to be able to manage such things.

@anonynous: Victoria is now going through the same flood issues including loss of life and devastation to small towns and communities.

@brandon: The power of nature is a constant reminder that we simply share this planet and do not own it.

Related Posts with Thumbnails