Monday, January 17, 2011

Brisbane Floods!

No doubt you've seen the news about the flooding over here in Queensland which has now hit Brisbane. It's pretty crazy. It's not the sort of thing you're expecting when you move down here. I was not in any personal danger however it is pretty hard not to be affected in some way or other here. For weeks the news has been about the floods farther north and I've already mentioned the effects on our factory due to the Rockhampton one being closed.
I was and wasn't expecting this. Floods are a really weird form of natural disaster. Flash floods are quick of course, but having days or even weeks to prepare for a flood is just strange because it causes a disconnect from the cause. It has been raining non-stop for months, (or at least it feels that way) setting all sorts of rainfall records all over the state. This was the worst flood since 1974 (in which the Brisbane river went to 5.4m) and they were expecting this to be even worse, but in the 2 days of waiting for the river to peak (predicted at 5.5m) once it overflowed it's banks in the city, we actually had sunny weather so the whole thing became a bit of a tourist attraction (pissing off the cops to no end as they tried to block off access to everywhere) and I managed to get a bunch of decent photos. With the cessation of rain the peak hit at “only” 4.5m and the effects and risks significantly reduced. At one point it was getting pretty touch and go. The dam upstream was holding at over 200% capacity with the floodgates fully open as at 225% the water would've gone over the top.... 53 suburbs and communities around Brisbane were affected not to mention all the towns further upstream which were hit even worse. 75% of the state has been declared a disaster area.
Ok, but how was it personally for me? I woke up on Tuesday thinking it was just another rainy day and head over to the library for some internet before work noticing the Brisbane river was getting pretty close to the top of it's banks. I live only an 8 minute walk from the state library which is just around the corner from where I work. The library and the milk factory are right beside the Brisbane river and I just cross one of the bridges to the other side where I live up on higher ground but still very close to the water. We have a great view from the hostel roof of the river. While at the library they made an announcement that it would be closing early and staying closed for the next 2 days due to floods. This was the first I'd heard about floods in our area. I had thought it was just happening in some neighbourhoods further to the south of downtown.
When I got to work the river had overflowed it's banks and was creeping up the parkland between the factory and the bank. I spent most of that 9 hour shift moving equipment and supplies to the upper floors while the number of other workers dwindled away as they realized that if they didn't leave then they would never get home. One of the biggest problems in the floods has been that most of the major roads and routes have been cut so you can't actually get from anywhere to anywhere. Not a problem for me, but everyone else commutes... The peak wasn't expected until 4am on thursday and as this was late tuesday night we still had time to get stuff done but when I finally finished and left there were only 3 people left in our section (out of maybe 30). The back dock area where I was working was the closest to the water so I could watch it's level rise and the edge was probably 30m from us. The thing about the flood is that the water level was rising, sure, but the biggest factor is the tides. On a normal day the water level changes quite a bit due to the tide, so they could easily predict when the high tides were going to be pushing the water levels to rise fastest.
So the factory closed until further notice, expecting to flood at high tide on wed and be totally swamped at the peak. On the way out the front gate I stopped to look UP at the marker on the wall showing the high point of the flood in 1974 just over the top of my head. If this was to be a little higher we were in for a lot of clean up work later....
I usually shop only a day at a time to avoid having my food stolen from the hostel fridges but figured I better do a little stocking up, so in the morning I went over to the supermarket across the street. It seems everyone else had the same idea first: there was no bread, fresh fruit or veg, no eggs and only a little milk and meat left. Other food was running out quickly too. I think I got the last bag of cheap pasta and some other stuff though. Not that I was worried particularly, perhaps still being mostly in denial.
As mentioned before, the sun came out while we waited so on wednesday afternoon just before the wed peak I went out and ran around so see what had flooded and get some photos. On wed morning they shut off the electricity to downtown. I live maybe 15 minute walk from the centre and we still had power but the place was like a ghost town with the exception of all the police and the people with camera like me trying to get in where we weren't allowed. Don't get me started on the cops and their overreaction in protecting us from 3 inches of water on a street... Fortunately I went out early enough that I got across the bridge over to South Bank before they shut all the bridges down. Not that you could get anywhere anyway. West End was flooded (poor Ben) and the parkland and lagoon along the river disappearing quickly. From there I got over the Victoria bridge into downtown and ran around trying to get as close as possible while avoiding cops and getting my feet wet. Like I said before, ghost town, no electricity and most of the shops sandbagged, even 5-6 blocks from the riverfront. Traffic was almost non-existent so that the most dominant sound was actually the thumping of all the news helicopters overhead.
Back at the hostel I went the other direction towards Milton and the stadium which is only 200-300m away from the hostel. It was flooded and there is a McDonalds more or less underwater right there. So I guess I can say I was pretty close to the action without having any major worries of my own which is the best position to be in.
On Thursday I got up at 6am and ran around again. The cops had mostly disappeared so people were crossing the lines and I got over the bridges and mostly retraced my steps of the previous day without the hassle. Water levels were definitely higher but the peak was at 4.5m and hadn't reduced much so it wasn't as bad as I was expecting. The river was still flowing really fast and carrying all sorts of junk with it, including the odd pontoon and boat. There were reports of a bull shark swimming down a street somewhere but I guess that while theoretically possible (they do get them in the river from time to time) this is probably an urban myth that the news just couldn't not report because it sounds so cool. I'm writing this Thursday morning after my run around so I'll have to follow up with the aftermath in another blog. Right now the worry is the clean up, drinking water quality in the city and getting supplies in from southern Australia. The weather forecast is good, so that should help speed the recovery along too.
As a continuation of the personal connection. One of the neighbourhoods nearby where I couchsurfed a couple nights was among the worst hit and the farm I was at months ago must be flooded. I haven't actually heard from the family out there but the road between the 2 towns on either side of the farm has been closed so it stands to reason that that it has flooded again like it did last year too. The worst thing to happen to me in all this is my first sunburn in months as I was out for hours in the good weather.
It's now 24 hours later. I woke up and strolled down the hall to watch the news while having my morning cornflakes. It seems the river has gone down to just barely over it's banks and the clean up is now underway. A series of images of piles of rubbish outside of homes and shops and excavators and trucks clearing mud and debris flicker across the screen. I turn around to the rumbling of trucks carrying excavators heading off to the next clean up site passing down the road.
I decide to retrace my steps of the last 2 days. The river has indeed gone down, leaving behind a thick layer of mud, the kind that requires you to throw away the soiled item and not wash it. Some of the major intersections are still closed in South Bank, there is mud all over the front of Parmalat and nobody is moving down there yet to start the clean up, the Go Between bridge is still closed, as are the libraries. Businesses are opening downtown and traffic is back and backed up more than usual for the time of day. I have a brief chat with a guy while waiting to cross a street. His home is fine but he hasn't been able to get there for the last 3 days as all the road access was cut off. His story is not atypical but he has it better than many. The overall impression though is that the worst is indeed over and things will be more or less back to normal very soon.
I head back to the hostel and to my waiting book to kill time until work calls again. First I stop off in front of the tv to see more news. Something other than the local floods are on the news. It's flooding in Brazil and Sri Lanka. They have it a hell of a lot worse than we do. I wonder if Australians realize how lucky they actually are.....
It's now a week later, the library will be closed another week for clean up, work is finally starting to get going again and we've had nothing but sun. For the most part things are looking pretty normal and business as usual in the city. The forecast is for more wet weather for the next couple months so who knows, maybe it'll happen again.
Ammon

1 Comments:

At 9:22 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Ammon,
Sorry it took me so long to reply, caught a nasty cold that decided it wanted to be brochitis instead, so in work survival mode. I was worried as I watch the nets and the flooding, but news nade it look so much worse, they only show the worst of the damage. Loved the pictures, nice burn on the nose there bud. Here, we have gone from 14 above on Thursday to 30 below today. The Chinook collapsed and brought the arctic air in, Bbbbrrrrrrrr. Oh well, this to shall pass, that or the ice age returns. I'm guessing you are working your little fanny of getting the poant back on line.
Got an email from your sis and Mom, sounds like you guys are getting together again. The hardcore 4 return!!!

Gota run, be good, take care and have fun.
Big Bear Hugs
The Bear

 

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