Thursday, January 6, 2011

What the Floods have Revealed....about us.

Earlier this week I made a silly comment about using Army Ducks from Rainforest Station in times of flood so that we don't have to go without here in Cairns. My five year old son made the suggestion and at the time I thought it was amusing.

Now, one week later, there is nothing funny about what is occurring in the southern parts of this state. The scope of the floods are very hard to get your head around and the vision we are seeing of floating homes and belongings is just devastating.

We have been largely unaffected by the floods. People are still making remark about the need to flood-proof the Bruce Highway and the annoyance at finding shelves bare of stock in the supermarkets and stores but this has always happened while we are in the middle of a natural disaster. After the water falls and the roads re-open it will once again be apparent to all that you simply cannot flood-proof against a 100 year event. Even 50 year floods like those in 2008 cause roads to flood for weeks at a time.

In Cairns, we are naturally immune to this type of disaster. Water goes straight out to sea from here and while we may have the inconvenience of minor flooding, it is always temporary. South and north of us have never fared very well. The land is flat and there is simply nowhere for the water to go....but up. We are all aware of it, we all prepare for it and we all get annoyed by it, every time it happens.

Let's ignore our bare shelves for a moment though and focus on those who are really doing it tough. In Rockhampton yesterday the flood waters reached their peak. It was slightly lower than predicted, peaking at 9.2m rather than 9.4. Looking at the number on it's own it seems that 200ml would not make much difference really but on further investigation it was revealed that it most certainly would. 9.2m would reach the bottom of floorboards on a two story home (which is a common structure in Rockhampton). 9.4m would cause those floorboards to disappear under the murky water and a whole house full of belongings to potentially be ruined, along with the house. Soaking floorboards in water for 36 hrs (the amount of time the water is expected to sit, before beginning to go down) would ruin them, making entering homes and recovering items impossible.

The Mayor of Rockhampton has said that the food drops to the north of the town are lovely, but not necessary. All of the local stores stocked up before the floods in preparation of what was to come and in order to support them staying afloat (sorry, bad pun) the local residents needed to purchase those items before accepting any relief. Essentially, he believed that any perishable items that were part of those drops would possibly be wasted. Sounds to me like someone is either not listening or is so desperate to be seen as giving a swift and effective response, they have gone a bit too far.

I applaud the much needed State and Federal response from the police, military and SES workers. These, along with the Red Cross, are ensuring that homes stay safe from looting and that safety of residents remains a top priority. Once again it is our emergency services and our volunteers who are making up the bulk of those doing the hard work while the crisis is unfolding. They will not be getting any rewards for this, no bravery awards and no ticker-tape parade. I watched a policewomen, in shorts, walk through waist level water on several occasions during flood coverage yesterday to check on residents that had chosen to stay, while those still in the boat were pointing out the snakes in the water.

The psychological effects of an event such as this will surely be felt for many months to come. Losing your home is one thing, dealing with a thick layer of stinking mud another, but worrying constantly that this will happen again would most assuredly take it's toll. I hope that when the roads are clear and the homes are cleaned, when the streets are passable and the insurance claims are in....we don't leave these towns to fend for themselves and ignore the ongoing struggles they will have.

The tiny towns with lost cattle, lost crops and lost homes. The larger ones with lost livelihoods, homes and belongings. The area that was affected is massive. Over 60 percent of the state. When we had a crisis in Larry, only a quarter of that amount was affected. The entire country dug deep and helped us out through this crisis. People travelled from all over the state, country and even came from overseas to help out where they could. Tradespeople donated time, expertise and tools to help rebuild. Cash donations were sent in from all over the world. The military and civilian response was incredible and the process to start over was made much easier.

This time it is not us affected. It's not right here on our doorstep. I wonder if we will be as generous now as we all were in 2006? I wonder if there will be complaints made about the cost of food when the limited stock that has survived the floods starts to trickle into stores. Will we remember paying $12 per kilo for bananas?

This situation will only be a temporary one if we all band together and make sure of it. Send in as much money as you can afford to the Premiers Flood Relief Fund. Gather together your unused linen and clothing items and take them to Pillow Talk, the Red Cross stores or one of the other drop off points. These items will be essential and in very short supply once the waters recede.

I will be watching the rest of this dramatic situation with thoughts always of those who are in limbo right now, waiting to hear what more I can do to help alleviate the struggle. Most importantly though, I will make sure I don't forget these people in two weeks, when the water is all gone.


  1. All I can say Leigh, is that the response from the Cairns public to the Rotary Linen Appeal, has been absolutely bloody fantastic, in two days we've already sent seven pallets of clean dry linen down south, and probably already have that much collected again today.

  2. You're just another apologist for incompetent government and small thinking Aussies. Of course we can have flood-proof highways, even for 100 year events. Most advanced countries have done so years ago. It requires good highway planning, dams on major rivers to minimise flood events, and clearing out low-lying "suburbs" that never should have been built where they are.

    It's obvious Leigh you're winding up to run for some kind of political office. We don't need anymore small thinkers, that's the essence of the problem.

  3. Thanks for the feedback Jim, always happy to hear different opinions. My opinions are just my own and based on what I feel is the situation as it stands. If you truly believe that floods can be avoided permanently then that's fantastic. My belief is that you can't flood proof the entire highway and it seems that, without removing entire communities from certain areas, neither do you.

    Perhaps the real emphasis should be on ensuring we build appropriately in these areas. High set homes should be mandatory and upgrades to the highway south of Rockhampton would be a start.

    Regardless of what happens, it's not in the near future and my comments pertain mostly to this wet season in particular.

    Again, thanks for your views.

  4. Thanks for the reminder to really reflect on the tragedy that is occurring for some due to the floods. When I was 8 their was a major flood in Cairns, but I remember it as a fun time, using kitchen sieves with my sisters to rescue critters from the waters. The bare shelves show me that I have a lot to be grateful for, when the drama of my day is my cat's fav meal not being in stock.