Questions remain as Queensland floods recede

02:25, Jan 14 2011
Australia Floods
A man drives his truck in floodwaters on a street in Depot Hill in Rockhampton, Queensland.
Australia Floods
A man rides a boat past a crane partially submerged by floodwaters at a train station in Rockhampton, Queensland.
Australia Floods
A man leaves the Fitzroy Hotel by boat in flooded Rockhampton, Queensland.
Australia Floods
People ride in boats in floodwaters on a street in Rockhampton, Queensland.
Australia Floods
A mailbox is submerged by floodwaters on a street in Rockhampton, Queensland.
Australia Floods
A couple carry the essentials as they walk through floodwaters in Rockhampton, Queensland.
Australia Floods
A man sits in the front of his boat as he navigates through floodwaters in Rockhampton, Queensland.
Australia Floods
Agricultural machinery on an island created by flood waters near Emerald in Queensland.
Rockhampton
Floodwaters in the Depot hill district of Rockhampton, Queensland, ahead of their predicted peak.
twitter flood
Flooding in Toowoomba reaches new peaks.
Toowoomba flood
Local residents inspect a road that collapsed when a flash flood swept through Toowoomba.
Toowoomba flood
Cars are partially submerged by a flash flood in Toowoomba, Queensland.
Toowoomba flood
A street is covered by a flash flood in Toowoomba, Queensland.
Toowoomba flood
People walk down a street affected by a flash flood in Toowoomba.
Toowoomba flood
People survey the damage after a flash flood tossed vehicles down a street in Toowoomba.
Toowoomba flood
A man is rescued by emergency workers after he was stranded clinging to a tree on a flooded street in Toowoomba.
Toowoomba flood
A man watches from in a lawn mower business as water flows past in Toowoomba.
Queensland floods
Flash floodwaters cover a street in Toowoomba, Queensland.
Toowoomba, Queensland
Flash floodwaters swamp a street in Toowoomba, Queensland.
Flood1
A flash flood sweeps cars against a bridge on a street in Toowoomba.
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A passenger in a car waves for assistance as a flash flood sweeps across an intersection in Toowoomba.
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Two State Emergency Service (SES) workers stand on the railway above destroyed vehicles after a flash flood swept through Toowoomba.
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A flash flood sweeps vehicles down a street in Toowoomba.
A man looks at the rising Brisbane River in central Brisbane.
A man looks at the rising Brisbane River in central Brisbane.
Workers in Brisbane watch the Brisbane River rise after heavy rain in in southeast Queensland.
Workers in Brisbane watch the Brisbane River rise after heavy rain in southeast Queensland.
Toowoomba flood
A woman is rescued from her car in Toowoomba.
Toowoomba flood
A vehicle is submerged as flash floods hit Toowoomba.
Toowoomba flood
Cars are left piled up after flash floods swept through Toowoomba.
Toowoomba flood
Toowoomba residents survey the damage after the flooding.
Toowoomba flood
A truck moves through floodwaters in Toowoomba as a woman sits stranded on top of her car.
Queensland flood map
QUEENSLAND FLOODS: Southeast Queensland cities and towns affected by flooding.
Sandbags are seen stacked in front of an electrical substation in Brisbane
Sandbags are seen stacked in front of an electrical substation in Brisbane.
Flood prepare
Sandbagging work in Brisbane.
Queensland floods
Teenagers tried to cross a swollen part of the Mary River in Maryborough when the current caught them and briefly caused some concern before they managed to get their own way out of difficulty.
Flood car
Flood victims take a light-hearted approach to their car stranding, enjoying a beer on the roof.
Australia Floods
Residents of Ipswich prepare for worst flooding in recent history by evacuating their houses, which are all expected to be submerged.
Australia Floods
Brisbane homes that may be in danger of flooding are sandbagged.
Australia Floods
Two-year-old Damien Vieritz gets ready for bed in the evacuation centre at the Ipswich Showgrounds.
Australia Floods
Residents of Grafton watch as the Clarence River reaches seven metres.
Australia Floods
Residents of Ipswich prepare for worst flooding in recent history by evacuating their houses, which were all expected to be submerged.
Australia Floods
A local looks on as the Brisbane River rises rapidly.
flooding
Residents of Ipswich wake to the worst flooding in recent history.
Flood
Residents of West End, Brisbane, remove stock from a business.
Brisbane flooding
Brisbane's flooded Riverside precinct.
Suncorp Stadium
Suncorp Stadium, where the Wellington Phoenix was due to play the Brisbane Roar at the weekend.
Car in floods
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh says the mother and son seen stranded on a sinking car, are safe. However the father is missing.
Residents of Ipswich dealing with record flooding .
Residents of Ipswich dealing with record flooding .
A house surrounded by flood water in Lawrence.
A house surrounded by flood water in Lawrence.
Queensland flood
A boat that saved locals lives rests on railway tracks.
Queensland flood
Two boys paddle past a flooded house in North Ipswich after the record flooding.
Queensland flood
An enormous amount of water flows rapidly through the Brisbane CBD.
Queensland flood
Geese walk through damaged houses after the flood swept their home.
Queensland flood
A building which was severly damaged during the floods.
Queensland flood
Wivenhoe dam
Queensland flood
A restaurant floats into a bridge in Brisbane.
Brisbane's Riverwalk
Brisbane's floating Riverwalk was ripped from its mooring and torn into pieces overnight, with one 300-metre long piece causing the closure of the city's bridges.
Flood area map
This map shows the expected water levels versus traditional levels in the river.
Australia Floods
Reader Allan-John Marsh sends us this picture of people biking around flooded Brisbane.
Australia Floods
Stuff.co.nz reader Robert Knight sends us this picture of flooded central Ipswich.
Inner city Brisbane
Brisbane city after river levels reached their peak.
Flooded Brisbane.
Flooded central Brisbane.
Flooded Brisbane.
The flooded CBD of Brisbane.
Brisbane Flooded
The flooded CBD of Brisbane.
Brisbane Flooded
Sharyn Avery looks at her shop underwater in Westend, Brisbane.
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Onlookers inspecting the damage on Merivale St in South Brisbane.
Queensland flood
Two men lift their boat over a fence as they travel through flooded streets.
Queensland flood
An oily film is seen in a flooded street in the Brisbane suburb of Toowong.
Queensland flood
A man drinks beer as he sits in the entrance to a flooded car repair workshop in Brisbane.
Queensland flood
A row of flooded eateries is seen in the Brisbane suburb of Saint Lucia.
Queensland flood
Residents paddle past a flooded house in the Brisbane suburb of Saint Lucia .
Queensland flood
Heavy equipment sits submerged in flood waters in an industrial area of Brisbane.
Flooded suburb west of Brisbane
A small boat travels through a flooded suburb west of Brisbane.
Brisbane Flooded
A road sign is visible on the flooded Ipswich motorway west of Brisbane.
Brisbane Flooded
Debris floats near a house submerged by flood waters west of Brisbane.

The floodwaters are receding in Queensland, replaced by a steady flow of questions, recriminations and tears.

The obvious inquiries are being made, like what could have been done better, both before and after.

There are also demands for the answer to the largely unanswerable "Why?", and there is a lot of mud, water and rubbish to get rid of.

Climate change and the ubiquitous La Nina will be blamed but that won't satisfy anyone who has lost family or friends or homes or livelihoods.

Governments, local councils and runaway development will also be denounced and accused of not doing enough.

As many as 50 people are likely to have died in the Queensland floods, most of them around Toowoomba where a wall of water swept through the town without warning on Tuesday and in Grantham which was utterly devastated.

Since then the rest of the Lockyer Valley has been flooded, some towns have been inundated for the second time in a matter of weeks and parts of Brisbane's CBD have been submerged along with 15,000 residential properties.

More than 1000 residents took shelter in evacuation centres as the Brisbane River peaked on Thursday and electricity was switched off in the CBD.

In Ipswich, to Brisbane's west, 3000 homes had been inundated at Thursday's peak and 1000 people were in evacuation centres.

While Queenslanders will bear a massive burden for years to come, there will hardly be a single Australian whose life will not be affected by this disaster, whether emotionally or economically.

Meteorologists can call on science for an explanation - the Queensland floods were caused by a lot of rain falling in a short time.

That rain came from a "super cell" which in turn has a relationship with La Nina, the phenomenon caused by raised temperature on the surface of the oceans around Australia.

As true and correct as they may be, such explanations do nothing to help anyone.

What Queensland needs is for the rain to stay away, for the assistance of the rest of the country and for governments to be as fair dinkum as they say they will.

What is needed throughout Australia if such disasters are to be managed better in the future is genuine and co-ordinated planning.

Dr Rob Roggema, a climate researcher at Melbourne's RMIT University, says a fundamental consideration should be building design.

"Recent planning practice has contributed to the magnitude of the flooding disaster in Queensland," Dr Roggema said.

Covering the ground with concrete may not create floods but, according to Dr Roggema, it makes them far worse by causing higher run-off into drains and subsequently into rivers and streams.

And too many large city buildings are put up in the wrong place.

"If we are to learn from this, we must create a long-term strategic and anticipative plan for Queensland in which new buildings are situated in the least flood-prone places," he said.

The latest flooding has also made redundant such notions as "100-year" floods, or droughts, being the basis for building decisions.

Dr Roggema suggests a more realistic standard would be to make decisions based on twice the worst predicted event.

Leaving room for the river is another concept that planning authorities need to consider, says Dr Caroline Sullivan, an Associate Professor of Environmental Economics and Policy at Southern Cross University.

"If a river floods over its banks and fills up a grassy, vegetated recreational area, the cost of the damage will be minuscule compared to the destruction we have seen along the heavily developed banks of the Brisbane river," Dr Sullivan said.

"Recognising the value of our wetlands as a buffer to floods is another important consideration, and capitalising on the valuable ecosystem services they provide is another dimension of how our environmental policies must be more closely embedded into our mainstream macro-economic decision-making practices."

Dr Sullivan believes future disasters on a scale of the Queensland floods are almost certain.

"The issue we must consider today is how we adapt our homes, infrastructure, businesses and lifestyles to the changing conditions we are now facing, so that the next time this kind of extreme event happens - and it will - we will be in a more secure position to deal with it," she said.

"Let us take advantage of this opportunity to rebuild in such a way as to ensure that all infrastructure developments across Australia are more resilient, and the power of nature is recognised."

The inevitable investigations and royal commissions that follow such events will undoubtedly result in a lot of finger pointing at all levels of government - with a possible exception.

In the face of the disaster that has beset Queensland, Premier Anna Bligh has shown herself to be a leader.

Ms Bligh's capability, compassion, sincerity and emotional connection to her community have made her the figure on which Queensland - and the rest of the country - has focused.

She has neither overplayed nor underplayed her role. And, unlike some in other states, she hasn't taken a night off to have dinner with her mates.

Ms Bligh has got it right not because she's been advised or coached, but because she has been herself.

On Thursday the strain of responsibility for a state that has been all but brought to its knees told on Ms Bligh.

Having spoken of bodies being found in the wreckage of homes, cars and in flooded rivers in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley, Ms Bligh, whose mother had to be rescued from her Brisbane home on Wednesday, shed tears as she assured all Queenslanders they would not be forgotten.

And she did so with a forgivable touch of Bjelke-Petersen parochialism and a dash of "We shall never surrender" Churchillian spirit.

"As we weep for what we have lost, and as we grieve for family and friends and we confront the challenge that is before us, I want us to remember who we are," she said.

"We are Queenslanders.

"We're the people that they breed tough, north of the border.

"We're the ones that they knock down, and we get up again."

For the premier who, in a political sense, had been all but knocked down before the floods, her performance during this crisis will have done a lot to earn the support of her state.

HOW TO MAKE A DONATION FOR QUEENSLAND

Make a secure online donation to the Australian Floods Fund at www.redcross.org.nz/donate

Send a cheque (payable to New Zealand Red Cross) to: Red Cross Australian Floods Fund, Freepost 232690, PO Box 12140, Thorndon, Wellington 6144.

Give directly to the Queensland Government "Premier's Disaster Relief Appeal" at any New Zealand Gloria Jean's Coffee House, till month's end.

Make a donation at any branch of the ANZ or National Bank.

Give via internet banking into either of the following accounts:

ANZ

Account name: ANZ (NZ) Australian Floods Appeal

Account number: 01-1839-0224522-00

The National Bank

Account name: National Bank Australian Floods Appeal

Account number: 06-0507-217129-00

- Brisbane Times, AAP and SMH

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