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Queensland, Australia, Faces Devastating Floods

  • Shaun Gilchrist
  • 15 January 2011

[Update: As of the 5th of March 2011, the then Brisbane Urban Adventures operator ran its first tour since the floods. Although visual reminders of the overflowing waters were plentiful, life was slowly starting to return to normal. There were still many families and businesses hard hit by these floods, but the good news was that visitors were returning to Brisbane, which was a very positive sign for tourism.]

In 1974, the flooding Brisbane River of Queensland, Australia, peaked at 5.4 metres. It has been etched in local memory as the worst inundation the city and surrounding areas faced in the 20th century. The river winds down from the hills to Moreton Bay (on the coast) through many towns and tributaries and past most of Brisbane‘s suburbs, landmarks and its central downtown area. So when it floods, the effect can be catastrophic and widely felt.

Flooding in Queensland, Australia

The floods in Queensland, Australia, have claimed 16 lives so far and left more the 28,750 homes without power. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Martin Howard

Although the Brisbane River peaked just below the 1974 level on 13 January 2011, the damage has been far more targic and it is now the new point of reference for flood devastation. Not only Brisbane, but the entire state of Queensland, is now attempting to recover from what many are calling the worst natural disaster in Australia’s history. Although high waters in the Brisbane area have affected the most people, the residents of towns and communities all over the state have battled this crippling flood, and the consequences will be long lasting.

Here are some fast facts:
+ Queensland covers 1.8 million square kilometres, three-quarters of which are currently underwater.
+ Over 30,000 homes around Brisbane were hit by the flood waters.
+ Over 100,000 homes are without power.
+ Sixteen people have died, a number expected to rise as 60 are still missing.
+ The damage bill will run into the billions of dollars.
+ The national export industry has been severely impacted.
+ Most of the year’s agricultural crop, which feeds much of the nation, has been lost.

An Inland Tsunami

This event has been coming for months. With record rainfall over the last four months, the Wivenhoe Dam (built after the 1974 flood) was at 190% capacity and water was overflowing back into the river system. The sad irony is that, until recently, the area had been facing a terrible drought and the dam had been empty, with water use restrictions for residents.

The constant precipitation culminated in a final week of torrential rain in early January. I had never seen or experienced anything like it before. Worse, it fell in the worst possible places, pouring onto saturated earth that sent it coursing the only place it could go: down. As a result, the town of Toowoomba, 125 kilometres west of Brisbane, faced an unspeakable and unprecedented natural disaster – an inland tsunami – as a 5- to 10-metre-high wall of water unexpectedly made its way through the town and surrounding communities.

This is where most of the heartbreaking deaths occurred. There were stories of babies ripped from their mothers’ arms by the water, people washed clean out of their houses and cars, picked up like they were toys, carried kilometres away. The images are truly beyond belief and gave an indication of what was coming downstream in Brisbane. Downtown Brisbane and all surrounding low-lying areas had to be evacuated; and people rushed to get out what they could from businesses and homes.

Making a Difference

The sad fact is that most Australian insurance policies don’t cover floods from river systems, so this initial heartbreak is set to get much worse for many more Queenslanders. Assistance is therefore vitally needed for those hardest hit.

Flooding in Yeronga, Queensland, Australia

The recent flooding in Australia, as seen in Yeronga, Queensland, a suburb of Brisbane. Photo courtesy of Flickr/David McKelvey

Anyone in Queensland who can assist is encouraged to contribute equipment, skills or time. Register at www.volunteeringqld.org.au/home/. Anyone anywhere around the world can donate to help those affected through the Australian Red Cross or the Queensland Government. In Australia, donations are also being accepted at most banks and supermarkets. Those affected will be very grateful.

Despite the overwhelming tragedy, there have been positives as outstanding as donors’ generosity. People around the world know of the Aussie reputation for being laid back and easygoing. Well, some people here have lost everything, but they are still able to say “Well what can you do? It’s nature. Time to start rebuilding.” Although Brisbane will take its time to reflect, grieve and recover, the unique Queensland character is shining through. Neighbours and strangers have been helping each other move or save whatever they can, bonds have been built that will be needed to restore this city to what it was, and through it all we will do what Queenslanders do best – get on with the job and look after our mates.

Flooding in Gailes, Queensland, Australia

Flooding in Gailes, Queensland, Australia. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Martin Howard

A Note from Tourism Australia

There’s no question that travellers should stay clear of Brisbane and other areas. However, much of Queensland is open for busy and eager to welcome visitors. The following is a message from Tourism Australia, the national government agency.

“The current disaster has impacted particular parts of Queensland, including Brisbane and its surrounding regions, Rockhampton and regional communities in the central and southern Queensland area. However, the tourism regions of Whitsundays, Mackay, Townsville, Cairns, Port Douglas, Tropical North Queensland and the Gold Coast are all accessible and, in many cases, completely unaffected by the flooding.

The Sunshine Coast, Fraser Coast and Bundaberg regions are open, although there are some accessibility issues due to localised road closures, but most tourism operators are open for business. Brisbane Airport is open and still the major gateway to Queensland. All airports in Queensland except Rockhampton Airport are open.”

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Shaun Gilchrist

Shaun Gilchrist is the owner of the Brisbane franchise of Urban Adventures, who offer unique day tours in over 100 cities globally. Having travelled to over 30 countries, he also has a passion for experiencing different cultures and ways of life.
Shaun Gilchrist
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Australia, Australia & New Zealand, cities, local knowledge, natural disasters, Oceania, personal experience, weather extremes,

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