Friday, February 03, 2012

Roma 2012 flood beats 2010 record

If I thought yesterday was a crazy day, then it was clear I'd aint seen nothing yet. As of yesterday evening, Mitchell was in a bad way and Roma was predicted to get moderate flooding. This was before it rained all night across the west. Text alerts were sent out at 5am to say the situation was worsening in Roma but I didn't get it as the Victorian-led system is currently based on billing address and my bills go to Brisbane. I got up at 6am and set off to check out the water. I arrived at Charles St Bridge over the Long Drain (extension of the Bungil Creek) in time to watch police close it.

The creek was 6.6m and rising. I went into the 7am Disaster Management Group meeting where the BoM predicted a height of 7.5m for the Bungil. This meant major flooding on a par with the April 2011 event where under 50 houses went under but nowhere near the 8.1m catastrophe of March 2010 when over 200 houses were inundated. Mitchell was still in a bad way after last night with 400 people in shelters. After the meeting when I went out to have a look for myself, I was not confident the BoM was right. There was a lot of water in the flooded area already, sandbagging was proceeding furiously and I was hearing of massive falls in the catchment.

My own experience of watching Roma going under, now six or seven times (I've lost count) in 2 years, told me this was bad given there was a lot of water to come. Many people in the flood zone seemed to think so too and most were scrambling to move belongings to higher ground.

There were a lot of roads cut off and as I drove back to the office I heard the BoM tell the ABC, the new prediction was 8.1m - exactly the same as 2010. This was a disaster in the making.

Worse was to come at the office. I heard from the Toowoomba Chronicle scanner a woman and child had been washed off the Northern Road. I immediately drove as close to the scene as I could get. I parked my car and watched as fire trucks rushed away from the scene.

I hitched a lift through the flood and rang back to the office for them to collect the work car. I was worried it would go under and I would not be able to get back in time. When I got to the scene of the accident I asked eye-witnesses what they knew. I eventually found people who saw the whole thing. A woman and her son tried to drive through the floods to get to the Northern Road. Onlookers waved at her frantically to get her to stop. It was too late, the car flipped and the woman and son were washed out of the car. I was told they were both rescued and made my way back through the floods to town. It wasn't easy. I fell over ruining a work camera which got saturated.

I posted my third or fourth web update of the day to say the pair were rescued only to immediately find out my information might not be right. Someone I know in town rang up frantic to say the woman worked at her place and what did I know. I said I thought she was safe but that wasn't what she was hearing. I rang the police but they say they were "still getting to the bottom of it." I suddenly had a cold feeling I was wrong. The creek was still rising. I went out again only to drop a second camera in the rising waters. Surely this was greater than 8.1m?

It was. At 4pm I attended another Disaster Group Meeting. 8.5m was the new prediction and this was "unchartered territory" in the scary words of the BoM expert. Police also confirmed the woman was still missing (as was the car) but the son was safe. They were calling off the search as the number of urgent calls went crazy. With a sick feeling, I went back to the office to retract my earlier version of the story before heading out again. The flood boats were still taking people out of the danger zone.

Now the water was coming down McDowall Street where all the shops were. This didn't happen in 2010. Water was lapping the fire station and businesses were sandbagging. Water still had to come down from upstream and it was still raining. Where would it all end?

The creek finally stabilised at 8.5m. With the worst, and it was the worst, over it was time to hit the recovery centres. There were two. The Rec Centre was where everyone could sleep and the RSL Hall where people could eat. There people were tucking into KFC provided free by the local store. I just remembered how hungry I was and joined the party.

Back on the street, emergency services were mopping up for the night. There were still some who needed help like 10 people stuck on the roof of the Overlander Motel. Charleville and Mitchell were still in crisis and Roma had now joined it. Surat and St George downstream will face the music next. The one bright moment of a horrible day is when I bumped into Nev Clem. Nev found this poster in the flood zone. Did I want it, he asked. No, but I want your photo, I said. Nev obliged showing Defiance to the world. It will be a quality Roma and western Queensland will need in abundance in the dark and difficult days ahead.


All invited to share said...

Thanks for the update Derek. I am sorry I am not there to help....really wish I was there lending a hand.

Paul Bailey - Brisbane said...

Take care young man.