Travel Diary » Photo Story: the Brisbane Floods
After years of drought, three-quarters of Queensland is now in flood. In fact, when we returned to Australia in December it seemed it seemed like everywhere was getting drenched. Carnarvan in WA, where it almost never rains, has now been flood twice since mid-December. Western and central Queensland towns are awash with water, with many of the towns cut off repeatedly by flood waters for weeks on end.
This week was southern Queensland's turn. Huge areas of Brisbane and Ipswich are currently under water in the worst floods in 37 years, while Toowoomba and its neighbouring towns have been devestated by a freak flash flood that send a wall of water up to 8 meters high through the towns. The footage from Toowoomba is heart wrenching and downright scary. We've never seen anything like it and our thoughts go out to everyone affected. Thankfully everyone we know in Toowoomba is safe but a lot of people have lost friends, family and children in the disaster. The small 300 people town of Grantham was worst hit - with only one street of houses left standing, several deaths and over 40 people still missing. We're hearing rumours of cars trapped under water below bridges that rescue crews still can't get to days later but are assumed to be graveyards. Lets hope it's not true and everyone still missing is found safe. The tragedy as the result of just this one storm is just astounding and by comparison the devastation from the whole flood seems to pale.
Growing up in northern NSW, I've grown up with floods. While the beachside town I grew up in was too close to the coast to truly flood, almost every year at least one of the neighbouring towns would have at least the lower lying areas inundated with flood waters. My mother grew up on a farm on a flood plain and used to show my brother and I the pictures of the vast oceans of water that would enclose the farm every few years. Each Christmas we'd hang up decorations from her childhood that were water damaged and stained from the year they lost the roof just before Christmas in storms.
And of course the '74 flood was the stuff of legends. You would be hard pressed to find someone that's grown up in South-east Queensland or Northern NSW who hasn't heard of the '74 floods. Whenever we visited Lismore in northern NSW people would point out the telegraph poles with markers on them 9-10m high showing where the water came too. [Photo courtesy of SES NSW] The flooding in Brisbane in 1974 was one of the highest on record. Of course it was nothing compared with the floods experiences in the 1800's but in living memory the '74 floods were the worst anyone had experienced.
When I moved to Brisbane for university in 1996, the '74 floods were still a common subject whenever it rained for a week. When you bought a house you checked if the house had gone under in the '74 floods. Then Brisbane had 7 years of drought and it seemed like it would never rain again ... until last year. Last week, after months of rain the inevitable was announced - Brisbane was going to flood. What shocked everyone a few days later was the revised flood heights that were set to equal '74. I think its safe to say that many people thought it could never happen again. After 37 years without a flood, years of drought and the giant mitigation dams, levies and strategies that had been built over the years I think many residents had assumed that Brisbane was practically flood proof. With the forewarning available today thanks to technology low lying areas in Brisbane were evacuated in time but the damage is still shocking.
Thankfully the waters didn't end up reaching as high as they did in '74, although thousands of homes were flooded and entire suburbs were cut off by water. Sports stadiums are flooded, the CBD is inundated and without power ... even the iconic XXXX Brewery is under water. Sadly the beer is safe (I'm so not a fan!).
Luckily for us our storage shed in Brisbane with all our possessions is high and dry. We're staying at the moment with Colin's parents who are also a long way from any flood waters. Yesterday we drove into several areas around the city to ... well lets be honest ... gawk. We chose places that were well away from emergency services operations so we didn't cause too much of a nuisance. At the time these photos were taken the river was at a height of just under 4m. Now that the gawking is out of the way we're working out how to help so if you know anyone that needs a hand with the clean up please shout.
First stop - Dutton Park and the Green Bridge across the river to the University of Queensland. I used to catch an old ferry across the river to uni from just behind Hayley every day. Ferry stop you ask? Where is the jetty? Under about 4m of water past those trees.
Above is one of the many pontoons we saw speeding down the river. Hundreds have broken loose each day - it would be very surprising if any are left intact. As you can see from the photo below even the ones that have managed to hold on are damaged beyond repair. The pylons attached to this one were rocking so badly we were taking bets to see if it would break loose while we were there. It didn't but I doubt it would have made it through the night.
The force and speed at which the water is racing down the river is just mind blowing. While we were out they announced on the news that a number of iconic boats and waterfront walkways were going to be destroyed or sunk to prevent them coming loose and flying down the river. Ferries, replica paddle steamers famous for their 21st birthday drinking parties, ridiculously expensive floating walkways, public ferry terminals - all to be destroyed. The loss of the walkways is rather ironic - built only a few years back they've had to be rebuilt a few times in the last few years due to structural problems from poor design at huge cost to Brisbane tax payers. So to see them being destroyed by the first flood at tax payer expense ... well lets just say we're looking forward to seeing what replacement walkway the council comes up with!
Once across the river we walked around the flooded low lying areas of the University of Queensland.
The uni has several large lakes that are connected to the river that water has flowed back up from the river and spilled out all over the grounds.
The above photo was taken just near where Colin's brother and his wife got married. It's just a little soggy now! This area is usually filled with the worlds most violent geese. They were no where to be seen. After being chased by them more times than I can remember I'm hoping the flood has scared them off for good.
Remember the photo right way back at the top of this post? It was taken on the roof of the below car park after Hayley tripped and hurt her knees. The bottom level of the carpark is completely submerged, as was road access to the carpark so several cars are stranded in there.
Afterwards we drove quickly through West End, where much of the suburb is affected. Whole streets have disappeared. If you look at the trees in the distance in this photo the actual river lies behind them, along with a ferry terminal, which again is under several meters of water.
Next we headed into the Kangaroo Point end of Southbank to see the city. As we arrived we saw one of the pontoon that we'd seen at the Green Bridge race past.
Several boats have been caught under the Good Will walking bridge.
Our final stop - Colin's old high school, Anglican Church Grammer or 'Churchie'. The older buildings were high and dry. Built back in the early 1900's when flooding was still fresh in everyone's minds I guess unlike now - all the newer buildings were swamped, including the Aquatic Centre that's certainly living up to its name.
A lot of the ridiculously expensive renovated Queenslander homes the expensive suburbs surrounding the school haven't faired very well either. A 'Queenslander' is generally a wooden house built specifically to handle the hot Queensland summers that is raised several meters off the ground to avoid flooding. In recent years a lot of people have built in under their houses. In the middle of a drought and souring property prices I guess this made a lot of sense. Now ... well with another three months of rain predicted lets just hope this is the only flood that Brisbane undergoes.
For those living in Brisbane who want to help out with the cleanup, you can register on the Volunteer Queensland website. Information on donating is available through the Queensland Government website.