Flood waters came rushing back into Grantham over the weekend, two years after their community was devastated. It was too much for many residents, writes journalist Amanda Gearing from Grantham.
The nerves of Grantham residents were overwrought during torrential rain over the weekend as memories of the January 2011 disaster came back.
Dozens of residents still living in the lower section of Grantham, which bore the brunt of the “inland tsunami” which killed 12 local people, watched and waited anxiously as water in Sandy Creek rose quickly on Sunday, lapping the town’s sandstone memorial to those who died.
Residents now living on the new estate on the higher side of the town were isolated by flood water covering the entry to the estate, but at least their homes were above the flood peak. But dozens of families were not able to move to the higher land and remain in the lower section of the town.
Mother of three Linda Godley watched in disbelief yesterday at the continuing rain, the expanse of flood water in the town and the huge clean-up job ahead of them. The family has not been able to afford to finish rebuilding since the 2011 flood.
“It’s just disaster after disaster. I can’t believe it’s happening again so soon,” she told Crikey. “I’m cooking on only a camp stove and a frypan because the stove broke and we can’t afford to replace it.”
Several families fled the town when friends phoned them warning of heavy rainfall upstream that might cause a similar flash flood. “People were panicking and crying, worried it was happening again,” one resident said.
Their anxiety was heightened by a lack of information. “We were supposed to get SMS warnings but there were no warnings from the council,” she said. “We heard there was a metre of water over the Helidon bridge [which was not accurate] but we just threw a few clothes in a bag and got straight out.”
Some families in the lower section of the town had to take refuge at the town’s primary school because the evacuation centre set up after the January 2011 disaster was closed last year and the new community centre is not yet finished.
Gilbert Kilah, who lives beside Sandy Creek, and narrowly escaped with his life in the 2011 flash flood by floating on a car and clinging to a power pole, waited anxiously as the flood level rose on Sunday. He stayed at home as the flood peaked — the water stopped rising 30cm from his floorboards and began to recede.
Neighbour Frank King, who clung to a tree for more than an hour in the 2011 disaster, received official warning this time but not until it was too late. “I had a phone call from the council at 7pm Sunday about the evacuation centre being open but the flood had come a few hours earlier and by then we were cut off from the evacuation centre,” he said.
“We’re sick of clearing up every time it floods. We are the forgotten ones.”
Residents on the lower side of the town watched and waited yesterday as the water slowly began to recede. They are this morning mopping up again and hoping funding will be provided this time to allow them to move their houses to the higher side of the town.
“We’re sick of clearing up every time it floods,” one retired woman said. “We are the forgotten ones. There is still asbestos contamination from the floods two years ago and the grass on the vacant blocks has only been mowed twice since that flood.”
Higher up the catchment, at Murphys Creek, new Bureau of Meteorology gauges allow residents to monitor conditions. The creek rose to just over 2.5 metres at midday on Sunday before beginning to gradually fall. At Helidon, Lockyer Creek which destroyed much of the town of Grantham in 2011 peaked at almost 6 metres, a moderate flood level, at midday on Sunday and is now slowly falling.
Thirty kilometres south of Grantham, up to 600mm of rain has swollen creeks, tearing down power and phone lines and sweeping away hundreds of metres of road, isolating the district of Mount Sylvia.
Former Grantham residents Stephen and Lisa Spierling moved their flower farming operation to a higher location after their farm was destroyed in Grantham in 2011. “Tenthill Creek, which flows to Gatton, is higher than the record 1974 level and looking down on the swollen creeks in the valley it’s like a disaster movie,” Lisa said yesterday. “It brings back too many memories.”
But the family was glad to be on top of a hill this time.
*Amanda Gearing covered the 2011 floods in Grantham, including for Crikey, and later wrote a book of local stories, The Torrent