Brisbane Floods 2011
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Brisbane Floods 2011

Preparing for the flood – 12 January 2011

It’s been a huge few days since we first started to realise that it looked like Brisbane would be hit by another of the cyclical floods that happen every 30 to 40 years.

Brisbane is at the end of the Brisbane River, a long, slow moving, meandering brown waterway that drains much of the country from the Great Dividing Range to the west and into the north. As noted by John Oxley as the first explorer in 1823 when he sailed upstream to where Brisbane now sits, the river has no watershed to keep the flow constant but relies on rainfall from it’s catchment. This inevitability leads to periods of low flow where the river becomes a tidal stream washing upstream on the high tide and downstream on the low tide, much like we’ve had for the last 20 years of drought. He noted from the rotting vegetation high on Spring Hill and Kangaroo Point that this natural choke between these high points must cause massive floods during high rainfall.

Flood Waters

Water Creeping Up My Street

John Oxley is basically correct and it seem that the cycle of this flood is based on the La Nina oceanic temperature phenomena where the water temperature warms causing greater precipitation, including cyclones which can impact on Brisbane as happened in the 1974 flood. This cycle has lead to minor and more occasional major floods in 1865, 1893, 1931, 1974 and now 2011.

I remember well, as a 14 year old in Toowoomba, watching the black and white television images of the massive destruction and flooding that was the Brisbane flood of 1974, wondering what it would be like to experience that event, and yes even wondering of how exciting it might be to be involved – Now I know.

On Monday the 10 January 2011 a slow moving trough had settled over the catchment of the Brisbane River dumping rain on the already soaked area that had seen an unusually high rainfall. The long ten year drought had well and truly broken and now the dams were fall and spilling, a vast change from when there was but 25% in them just a few years ago. How good was it to now not to be on water restrictions and able to use water freely but this was getting ridiculous now, with rain soaked ground causing each new drop to run off filling the flood mitigation percentages of the dams and swelling the streams.

Then the unthinkable happened, something that no one has ever heard or seen before. My home town of Toowoomba high on the range at 340m above sea level, sat in a place where the dense moist air rose, chilled and dumped it’s contents on the escarpment and on Toowoomba itself. It was as if God had emptied a bucket on the town, filling the creeks, flash flooding the shops, sweeping away everything in it’s path including cars, shipping containers and people. Sadly two people died when they were trapped in their vehicles by this surging wall of water. This is what they had to deal with in the Toowoomba Flood

Then it got worse…

The water that was dumped on Toowoomba flows west to the Darling Downs causing flooding in many smaller towns, some for the second time in a fortnight but what happened to the east was of biblical proportions of horror.

As the cool air rose up the range it precipitation out and dumped onto the escarpment creating a high speed wall of water that instantly roared through the Lockyer Valley wiping out low lying areas around the towns of Withcott, Grantham, Gatton, Laidley. The first of these towns copped the full force of the physics of throwing water down a slope. A deluge of high speed water wiping clean everything it it’s path, livestock, cars, houses and people.

Just imagine sitting down to lunch like on any normal day then hearing a freight train coming and have to run for your life with no more than two minutes to get to safe ground leaving everything behind. How would you feel? I can’t comprehend how difficult that would be to deal with and how quickly it would be necessary to think and comprehend the enormity of the situation.

That was the worst of it but as the flow moved downstream swelling creeks and rivers, rapidly flooding downstream communities the rain also continued to descend filling all the catchments particularly the giant Wyvenhoe Dam to 190% of it’s total 225%. The dam could no longer keep all the water back with the huge inflows coming into it and had to release a controlled amount to balance it’s inflow with the impact downstream where it would be joining with the Tsunami coming down the Lockyer Valley swelling the Bremer River and flooding Ipswich.

Once these two flows meet they then combine to impact on all areas downstream swelling that slow moving meandering waterway that is the Brisbane River into the tumultuous maelstrom that becomes the great flood of 2011.

Brisbane is lucky.

Unlike Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley where the folk had minutes to evacuate, or a few dozen hours for Ipswich, Brisbane has had a couple of days to prepare.

On Monday night I thought “this might be it”, but I slept well in my bed wondering what tomorrow would bring. The next morning I decided to help a friend move some things as she might get a little water through her place but on the way to her place I heard that my street in West End was told to prepare for flood waters in the next couple of hours.

Time to ramp up!

I’ve emotionally prepared for this event for as long as I’ve owned my unit as I knew it was in the area prone to this flooding so I had considered all options and like all triage I had my priorities. Considering the options of, if I only had a few hours, to having a few days. In order of importance they are:

  1. All electronic technology – computers, hard drive, recorders etc.
  2. Personal papers and memorabilia
  3. Clothes
  4. Secondary clothes and personal effects
  5. Furniture
  6. Everything else I would rather not get wet

I raced home and started with the priorities loading precious item into my car while glancing down the road to see if the impending flood was approaching – it wasn’t. So I kept working with the help of friends and my daughter to load things. Once I had the priorities I went to take my daughter to her Mums but couldn’t get through due to road blocks so I took her to stay at a friends.

How wonderful people can be in times of stress.

Without hesitation my daughter’s friend’s parents were happy to accommodate her and for me to unload my car into their home. They then offer me storage and transport for the mattresses and fridge that I was prepared to sacrifice to the flood waters along with anything else that I wanted to get out. How good was that. I could now save more things and move further down the list of items to keep from getting wet

It’s now been three weeks – 7 February 2011

As I pick up the keyboard I’m now sitting high and dry with the flood now three weeks behind me. I wrote the above section during the weird period of waiting for inundation. I had completed all the preparation, rescued all that I could and it was just time to wait and see what would happen while staying with friends high and dry in comfort away from the mayhem only a few kilometres away.

After three days the word came through that the flood could potentially be 2 metres above the 1974 flood level. With that I decided to finally strip some of the fixtures from my unit but as it turned out their estimates were incorrect and the water came to the neighbours property right up to my boundary – I dodged a bullet. Another half metre and it would have been over my floor and everything would have been different but I was fine and untouched.

What have I been doing these three weeks?

As I had move out I decided to take advantage of the situation. After I had helped clean up a friends home who had a small amount or water over her tiled floor and help her move back in I decided to repaint and renovate my unit. To turn an unexpected annoyance into a positive outcome for myself. Now I have a freshly painted and I’m in the process of redecorating it as I can afford, to create a new environment more conjusive to the work that I’m now doing from home.

I’ve come from this whole event in a better condition than I went into it. I have a renovated home, I’ve had an adventure protecting myself and helping others, I have some interesting stories to share and I’ve only been inconvenienced and lost three weeks production. I’ve been so lucky.

There are people in my community who are in a similar situation like myself where they have been only inconvenienced, then there are people who have lost everything, home, furnishings and even lives. Here are aerial images of the scale of the flood.

The people in the Lockyer Valley have been devastated by what happened to them with 21 dead and still 9 missing. What I went through was nothing compared to being an elderly person and having every possession swept away by the flood waters – How do you recover from that?

After the flood.

As the flood waters subsided the one stunningly, wonderful thing that came from it was the way the unaffected areas of Brisbane and the greater South East rallied to support and help. Tens of thousands of volunteers came out of the woodwork to help clean up the stinking, slimy muck that had covered roads and seeped into every crevice of people homes and lives. People rallied and formed teams to sweep, hose and wash down lives so they could dry out and start again. There were so many volunteers that some people had to be turned away.

Independent crews of people organised themselves to set up bar-b-cues to make food, deliver coffee and water to clean up gangs all at their own expense and on their own initiative. The community spirit and good will to help those less fortunate was stunning to witness and gives me hope that people still care for each other and it’s not just about the almighty dollar after all.

In just ten days from the flood waters subsiding 90% of Brisbane that was affected seems to be back up and operation. Sure there are some aspects that will take years to rebuild like the ferry services and many business will fail because of the floods of 2011 but in just a couple of weeks this city is operating again and getting on with it. It amazes me how quickly things have recovered.

Today I’m back on deck looking forward to getting back into production of my shows and picking up where I was before I was distracted by other events. It’s been one of those huge experiences of life, full of stories shared with my community. A community spirit that has heartened and encouraged me and a moment in time that we can all talk about into the future.

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