Thursday, January 13, 2011

Queensland Flood

Jan 13, 2011

Hit: Homes, livelihoods, the economy
Floods take toll on small businesses, industries and the tourism sector

BRISBANE: Tens of thousands of homes and businesses were yesterday inundated by raging waters that converged on Brisbane, Australia's third-largest city, and surrounding towns, creating a vast zone which officials said could remain under water for days.

The torrent of water has so far killed 22 people, and the toll is expected to rise as some 40 others are missing. The floods are the worst to hit the city in a century, eclipsing the devastating events of 1974, when 14 people were killed.
An estimated 20,000 homes in Brisbane are said to be at risk, affecting up to 45,000 people and 3,500 businesses.
The flooding is set to reach its peak today, and more than 1,600 roads are expected to be closed.
Even as Brisbane was inundated, danger signs were flashing in Melbourne, the country's second-largest city, in neighbouring Victoria state.
Flash floods hit several parts of the city and other areas of the state yesterday. In towns near Melbourne, drivers had to be rescued from trapped cars, while some home owners were forced to evacuate.
A 40km stretch of the Great Ocean Road, a popular tourist driving route on the south-eastern coast, had to be closed off to traffic as a result of floods, heavy rains and rockfall.
It was in Brisbane, however, that the devastation was at its worst.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard arrived in the city yesterday and said she was deeply concerned about the impact of the floods on jobs and livelihoods.
'I have been shocked. I think we've all been shocked by the images of that wall of water just wreaking such devastation. The dimensions of it are truly mind-boggling,' she said.
The city was all but shut down as unrelenting rain lashed the area, unleashing what some called an 'inland tsunami' on the city centre. What were dry suburban streets in the morning morphed into rivers mere hours later, leaving the city's central business district a watery ghost town of high rise towers.
Residents in the city of two million were told to evacuate homes early, but many were caught out by the speed of the rising water, which is predicted to remain high for at least a few more days.
The city's mayor said 190,000 sandbags had been laid in the city in the past few days, with many filled by volunteers, some from the disappearing banks of the flooded Brisbane River.
The scale of the flooding has put a dampener on the country's previously thriving economy. The Australian dollar dipped to its lowest level in the four weeks since the floods started, and economists have doubled their estimates of the impact of the flooding, saying the disaster could shave 1 per cent off the country's gross domestic product, or almost A$13 billion (S$16.6 billion).
Queensland's mining industry and agricultural productions have already been badly hit, suffering billions of dollars in damage, and the state's tourism industry is also taking a severe beating as thousands of tourists cancel trips there.
Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief Daniel Gschwind told Reuters that the potential losses would be a 'staggering' amount: 'It will be very, very significant and we are certainly talking in hundreds of millions (of dollars) rather than anything smaller.'
Queensland has long been among the top attractions in Australia's A$32 billion tourism industry, with its Gold Coast stretch of beaches and the Great Barrier Reef among its main draws.
Livelihoods are also being torn asunder as a result of the floods. In downtown Brisbane, the manager of the Salt 'n' Pepper catering business, Ms Kim Hung, surveyed the destruction after shoulder-high water swamped her unit and ruined almost everything in sight: 'This is my whole life, everything is gone. I never thought it would get this bad.'
Amid the devastation, however, there were silver linings: Stories have emerged of Australian pluck, and news reports have been peppered with tales of heroes who risked their lives to save others, and of strangers helping each other.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh urged residents to keep up their spirit.
'We need to make every effort to stay calm and stick together,' she said. 'If you live on high ground, now is the time to reach out and offer help to neighbours... and offer a bed for the night.'

Acts of valour amid sea of tragedy

THERE was the communications coordinator who spent hours in the dark of night ferrying residents to safety after they had been plucked off their rooftops.
There was the fireman who continued to rescue an old man even when he was told his own family had been stranded on a rooftop.
Then there was the panel beater who, with several others, braved surging flood waters to try to rescue two women from a car stranded by rising waters.
Amid the ongoing disaster have come such stories of heroism and acts of selflessness, carried out by professional rescuers as well as ordinary Australians rising to the occasion.
Some were firefighters and emergency workers risking their lives to reach people stranded on rooftops and in cars. Others were bystanders who did not hesitate and joined in rescue efforts, using whatever tools they had on hand.
Local media have run several reports on heroes of the hour, whose actions had saved lives as thousands continue to battle the raging waters. The floods, as the Australian Daily Telegraph put it, have become a landscape for 'true national valiance and fearlessness'.
Mr Jason Cubit, a communications coordinator for the Lockyer Valley Regional Council in Gatton, a rural town, had helped to get about 100 stranded Queenslanders off the roofs of their homes in Grantham town.
For three hours, the 26-year-old drove an eight-seater van back and forth, ferrying people from the submerged parts of town to higher ground as other heroes plucked residents from rooftops.
Then, after ensuring everyone was safe, Mr Cubit simply went home, put on his work clothes and turned up for work.
Over in Oakey town, a firefighter helping to rescue an old man did not flinch when colleagues told him his wife and four children had been forced onto their roof by rising waters. Rescue helicopters could not reach them because of the weather, and the colleagues were worried about the fireman's response.
'They'll be right,' the fireman said, and continued with his task. The old man had suffered a heart attack, and the fireman believed he was needed there most.
'It took the pressure off his mates back at the base,' Queensland MP Peter Pyke was quoted as saying by The Daily Telegraph as he recounted the story.
'It also demonstrates the level of community spirit that we have in these small communities, where everyone has lost everything and yet everyone still helps one another out.'
In the Toowoomba region, one of the worst hit, panel beater Colin McNamara, 28, and several others risked their lives to try to rescue two women trapped in a car caught in the raging waters.
'They were petrified. Absolutely petrified. They were wet and basically pleading for help. They weren't saying much but you could see it in their eyes,' he recalled.
They tried to walk out to the pair with ropes in chest-deep water, but to their horror, the two women were washed away before their eyes.
'The torrent was too strong,' Mr McNamara told the Brisbane Times. 'I was almost pulled in by the torrent.'
After a sleepless night, however, he got word that they survived.
Said Mr Pyke: 'In times like this, I know that all Australians are good... We have that famous mateship thing and it is in times like this that it again comes to the fore.'

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