Queensland flood inquiry recalled as victims left in limbo
The Queensland flood inquiry heard less than two days of evidence in April last year about the events in the Lockyer Valley, including Grantham, writes Amanda Gearing, a freelance journalist based in Toowoomba.
The recalling of the Queensland Flood Commission of Inquiry for another nine days of hearings from today has renewed fears of Grantham residents that the review has not had sufficient time to properly investigate the causes of the 12 deaths in the town on January 10 last year.
Grantham businesswoman Lisa Spierling, who has been liaising with the families of the flood victims, says recalling the inquiry to determine what operational strategy was being used by Wivenhoe Dam managers in the days before Ipswich and Brisbane flooded last year, is more than four times the entire sitting time that was allocated to the Lockyer Valley.
The inquiry heard less than two days of evidence in April last year about the events in the Lockyer Valley, including Grantham.
“To find now that the inquiry hasn’t looked at all the evidence about Wivenhoe Dam makes us wonder if they’ve had enough time to really look into why 12 people died in this town,” she said.
But a spokesman for the inquiry told Crikey the commission has sought further statements from local disaster management personnel, including the SES and the local disaster management group: “Throughout the inquiry, Grantham residents have been invited to provide the commission with any further evidence they had regarding the flooding of the town.”
But residents fear the final report may leave those at “ground zero” at risk in the future. Three families in the town each lost three family members — one family in a fire truck was hit by the “tsunami”, and the others were in their homes.
“The police report to the coroner noted 15 significant areas of investigation they would have looked at if not for the inquiry being under way,” Spierling said. “I doubt the inquiry has had time to investigate all these thoroughly. I have phoned them continually raising concerns.
“They’ve told me repeatedly that they are ‘a receptacle inquiry’ but surely it is up to them to ask the questions.”
The inquiry spokesperson says the commission has never described itself as a “receptacle inquiry”.
Spierling says it has not been possible for her or for many other traumatised flood victims to give information to the inquiry when the hearings were being held. She and two other residents have instead made a joint 18-page submission to the inquiry and have constructed a timeline using information from dozens of local residents, which indicates people upstream of the town alerted authorities to the scale of the impending disaster at least two hours before floodwaters struck Grantham.
“These people realise now they should have just phoned the pub,” she said. “People thought that by ringing authorities they were doing the best that they could but in fact that information wasn’t being passed on to us.”
Spierling and three of her children fled to the railway embankment from the first two waves of flood water when Lockyer Creek broke its banks.
“When we were standing on top of that railway line, the water that was coming across from the south was what you would expect when a creek has burst its banks. We were safe where we were,” she said. “Never in my wildest imagination did I expect to turn to the west and see a huge wave of water coming. I question continually, ‘Where did that wave of water come from’?”
Spierling and others believe it was the height of the third wave and its force that proved to be deadly. “For the future, we have to know what made that water jump out like that and run across a flood plain. There are still people living down there,” she said.
“There are a lot of families who can’t afford to move, or their houses are brick and they weren’t written off, so the owners can’t afford to demolish them and rebuild on the land swap estate.”
A spokesman for the inquiry says it has commissioned independent expert advice from hydrologist Dr Phillip Jordan regarding the effect, if any, of the Grantham quarry on flooding in the area. But Dr Jordan’s modelling and expert advice to the commission was not available at the time of the publication of the interim report and it would not be appropriate to pre-empt issues that will be the subject of the final report, they say.
Spierling says there is also a lack of publicly available evidence because very few statements from emergency services staff in the region on the day of the flood were available on the inquiry’s website.
“When the final report comes out, the commission needs to tell us the basis for their decisions so we can understand their methodology and why they came to the conclusions they reached,” she said. “That’s the least we deserve.”