When the Floods Came to Brisbane

When the floods came to Brisbane in 2011

It was the first week in my new job. I was new and I was trying to fit in when the biggest natural disaster in my lifetime hits my home city of Brisbane.
I will never forget that week. It had been raining so much at the time, I couldn’t remember the last day I saw a blue sky. Everyone knew that something had to give. We had never seen a downpour like this.
On January 10th 2011, photos, videos and messages began trickling in on social media from Toowomba. My boss called us over to her desk to show us a video she just received from her friend in Toowomba. The streets of Toowomba had been turned into a raging river, picking up cars and dragging them down the street with ease. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. 

Soon enough the live news reports began flooding in. Toowomba and the Lockyer Valley region was hit with a massive flash flood. Toowomba is a large town 3 hours north of Brisbane. Vision began flooding through of families trapped on the roofs of their flooded houses and people trapped in their cars swept down streets reclaimed by the water. The water came so fast, people did not have enough time to get away from it. The media began calling it an inland tsunami.

The stories that came from the Toowomba floods were horrific. The story that affected me the most was about a mother and her two children who were sitting in their car at a set of traffic lights at 2pm in the afternoon when they were suddenly faced with a flood of water engulfing the street.

During the chaos, a good samaritan truck driver was able to get close enough to help them. The oldest brother told this man to rescues his younger brother first. Just as the youngest brother was saved from their flooding car, the mother and the elder brother were swept away in the raging flood waters and were later found deceased. You can see the full story here. So sad! 25 lives were lost in this region due to these floods.

The following day, January 11, 2011 the rain had eased. The clouds were there but the rain was reduced to a trickle, but this gave us false hope. 

The torrent of water that hit Toowomba so harshly was heading our way. All normal broadcasting was interrupted to announce that Brisbane, a capital city of over 2 million people was going to flood. 

The Wivenhoe dam which had been keeping the flood waters at bay was beyond capacity at 191%. They had no choice but to release the water into the city of Brisbane. They intended to release it slowly to reduce the impact but the resulting flood could not be prevented.

Everyone was sent home from work for the rest of the day to prepare for the impending flood. Thankfully I live very close to work which is on top of a mountain, so there was no way our house was going to flood. When the flood came, it was slow and tormenting. All we could do was wait and watch as the water slowly crept up, and our eyes were glued to the live and unbroken news coverage to see it all unfold. 

On the following day, the 12th of January I went into work to find that my boss and one other person were the only people who turned up to work, because everyone else was cut off by flood waters. Later in the day, another guy came into work also. His house had flooded and he came into work because he had nowhere else to go.

We had a total for four days where the city was flooded, with the flood waters peaking on January 13th. Over these days we could not get groceries because everything was closed and we couldn’t go anywhere because the roads were cut off by flood waters. A large portion of the population was left stranded in their homes and suburbs but thankfully we were given enough warning to prepare and move to higher ground if needed.

Many suburbs were evacuated including the city centre, so there were many people sleeping in shelters who were unable to go back to their flooded homes. 

We watched vision on the news of the city centre, with its high rises and bustling business people now empty, waiting for the flood waters to approach. Once the flood waters arrived we could not stop watching it all unfold on the tv. It was especially eerie to see the streets around the high-rises in the city centre slowly get encroached by brown muddy water as the Brisbane river extended far beyond its reach into the streets that surround it.

The media kept telling people to stay away from the flood waters, but on January 13th, my boyfriend and I decided to drive 5 minutes down the road towards the river where the road finally lead into a sea of water ahead of us. We were not the only ones coming to see the sight for ourselves. Many people parked their cars and walked towards the water staring in awe and shock at the extent of this flood. The eerie thing was that there was not a drop of rain in sight that day. 

The street that we stood on is one of the very major streets in our city that lies close to the Brisbane river. As we stood there staring at the height of the water which was sitting just under the head of the traffic lights, a SAS boat with three emergency officers on board rode across the street, passing the tops of trees and street signs.

What really touched me the most was seeing the houses in the suburban streets surrounding us. You could see the sand bags people collected in desperation to save their homes which stood no match to the volume of water these houses were engulfed in. It seemed so unfair that one house would be perfectly fine while the next door neighbour on slightly lower ground would have their first floor of their houses flooded. 

It’s like each house was slowly sinking lower and lower in the water as you looked down the suburban street. In the deepest part of the flooded waters, only the tops of the houses could be seen. Whole houses were engulfed in this murky, muddy water and nothing could be done. We were standing there looking at it with our own eyes but we couldn’t do anything.

After the floods eventually subsided, the media appealed for help in the clean-up of our city which is when the soon to be known ‘mud army’ came out in force. Down the road from us in a local park, an area had been set up for people to come and volunteer for the clean-up. My boyfriend and I grabbed our gum boots, gloves and brooms to head down and volunteer and we were faced with an overwhelming flood of people doing the same. 

There were people of all ages, and even whole families came down decked out in wide brimmed hats and cleaning utensils ready to help out. It was truly amazing to see our city come together in such force during such a tough time. As my boyfriend and I made our way to the end of a very long line to sign up, we were turned away saying they already had more than enough volunteers. I was sad that I didn’t have the opportunity to help out, but at the same time I was so proud of our city.

20,000 homes went under in these floods and 35 people were killed in our state due to this flooding. This wasn’t the worst flood our city has seen in its history, but it the worst one I have seen in my lifetime, and I just felt like sharing my stories from that time with you because I am incredibly proud of my city! 

I am also glad to say that two years on from this disaster, our city has recovered and is like new again! 
Have you ever experience a natural disaster in your home city or town?


Helene said...

i have never experienced anything like that, but I can only imagine the devastation. so glad your city has recovered!!

Fiona said...

Wow this really bought back a lot of memories. Living up at the Sunshine Coast we had about 3 different periods where parts of the sunny coast went under water. Living in Nambour I remember having all access roads cut off and feeling so surreal. I can't even fathom larger scale natural events that take thousands of lives, this was huge enough for me, till this day it gives me goosebumps and makes me tear up!

Susanne said...

We are spared from natural disasters in my country but I remember a major flooding in my area when I was 10. A dam burst and they spoke of the risk of another one, much bigger, bursting as well, which would flood the entire area, not only the rivers and such. I was scared to death every day, I'll never forget that autumn...I think it was 1984.
I remember the 2011 Toowomba flooding, I followed it on the internet. We don't get any news about Australia over here so I got the news from blogs. It was shortly before the Japan disaster, I was thinking if it was the beginning of the end of the world. I saw that "inland tsunami" on a video, it looked terrible, I wondered if anyone could have survived that.

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