As a result of a lot of luck, I’ve been able to fill my house with friends rather than water. I live most of the way up the side of Mt Coot-tha in Chapel Hill. Despite having lived through the 2003 fires in Canberra (Weston Creek), I couldn’t resist living near the bush, despite almost buying a house which backed onto Mogill Creek. And my family are in Adelaide for the holidays, so I have lots of spare bedrooms. But because of the topography, everything north of the river and west of Toowong/Milton is all but isolated. I couldn’t get to work — but that doesn’t matter because my office building on Albert Street was flooded and we won’t be going back until sometime next week.
All the accessible supermarkets are closed. The rumour from the only open shop nearby (a butcher who was rapidly selling out at 8am) is that the Kenmore Woolworths won’t be open until at least Sunday. Although people have brought their own food with them, it will probably get a bit tight if the shops don’t open on Sunday. And other necessities such as toilet paper aren’t things that people think to take with them. We’re not completely isolated, but it would be at least an hour of wending through back streets to get to supermarkets the other side of the CBD.
The Queensland government efforts have meant that this has been MUCH better handled than the ACT government’s efforts in 2003. Although I had prepared a couple of days in advance then, that was because of my own experience with smaller fires and ADF background.
This time around, there was much better warning for the city from government and from watching the true tragedy in the Lockyer Valley, The Queensland Police Facebook site has been magnificent as a hub for reliable information. Twitter quickly descended into a torrent of rubbish, with no ability to pick rumour from fact. And the mobile phone network has been overloaded most of the time. SMS gets through a bit slowly, but voice calls and voice mails are all but impossible during the day. The BoM’s website has been excellent, with all the river levels available in near-real time from the network of automated gauges put in place throughout the catchment after 1974. Brisbane Council’s website wasn’t up to the strain, but the interweb came to the rescue with Greg Lephanic preserving access to the flooding guides at lephanic.com
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Morale is very good, so far — everyone is so glad that that we got off so lightly compared to the people upstream. Fortunately none of the people here have lost their houses. They either live in third floor apartments by the river or have lost power (not a preferable way to live with three pre-teen boys for any time at all, given the risk that playing in the floodwater might become the replacement for X-box).
But it’s quite a surreal feeling to know that there’s tragedy going on all around you and that you’re essentially untouched. In 2003, I watched the fire go past, and then ring my suburb, but no houses were lost (Fisher). That felt apocalyptic — but the scale of the problem here is much more devastating. Everyone in Brisbane is going to be affected by the disruption regardless of the effect on their possessions, and the psychological grind of clean-up and rebuilding, which will take months and years respectively to achieve.
We’ve all independently decided to stop watching mainstream media. The TV is now on rubbish reality TV or romcom 24/7 diversionary therapy as people process things in their own way. The funereal tone of the coverage on the commercial channels (especially the background music) hasn’t helped anyone. It’s not how those of us in the middle are feeling — or can afford to feel — at the moment. And the choice to continually replay yesterday’s vision or clips from Toowoomba or Grantham without some sort of timestamp makes the coverage pretty useless — apart from the live crosses to helicopter cameras
The Rosalie village experience is an telling example of the effect of the media. One of my favourite spots, and it does have a village feeling. The community spirit of those who turned out to help is a great example of Queenslanders at their best. But the reality is that the reason so many turned was probably due to the fact that all the morning “news” shows had cameras and reporters there to show the floodwater rising — and that was simply because it was the closest floodwater to the TV studios at Mt Coot-tha. Not any more deserving or pressing than hundreds of other spots around town where the water was rising into homes and businesses … just the shortest drive for the news vans when told to go and get some pictures of rising water.
Coles at Kenmore opened later in the day using a combination of staff from other stores who lived locally and normal staff. Very little in the way of vegies — looked like stock that might usually have been condemned (limp lettuces) but reasonable fruit. No milk to speak of, and meat running down. But no toilet paper!
The heart-breaking clean-up has started as the water recedes house by house. Took some photos around Kenmore as we checked on the grandparents of one of my temporary residents. People all seemed in very good spirits, but although we were in an area that flooded in ’74 and gets threatened by creek flows in heavy rain, I was surprised by the number of cars that had been inundated. Luckily the water there has been very gentle, so the only damage is inundation (to the roof line for single-storey houses), not things being thrown around by the current.