Queensland Floods. RTÉ Radio 1 World Report

Presented by Tim Stackpool, this item was originally broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 World Report in Ireland, January 9, 2011

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Copyright RTÉ 2011


With 200,000 people affected; 1000’s of homes inundated; more than 20 people killed this season; enormous losses to Australia’s agriculture and mining industry; and a looming ecological disaster from which the coral on Australia’s prized Great Barrier Reef might struggle to recover, this country in the the midst of floods described as perhaps the worst ever.

For the more than 70,000 residents of the city of Rockhampton, this past week has made for very long days. And frustratingly, it’s an inundation that couldn’t be halted, despite warnings giving days of notice. No amount of levee building, sandbagging or water course diversions could stem this deluge flooding an area the size of France and Germany combined. It’s nothing short of disaster on a massive scale.

A man in his 60’s at the evacution shelter, cried as he described the anticipation of returning to his home. “I don’t know what it’s like”, he said. “actually I do know”, he corrected, “but I don’t want to”.  90-year-old resident Ellen Boswood decided to stay with her home.  “I won't be moved”, she said "I'm not worried, I've been there, done that," remarked the positive veteran of the 1954 floods. Some others though are struggling with the isolation. Emergency workers assist with evacuation, but don’t have the resources to deliver supplies to individuals who choose to stay put. For them, supplies are running out and some residents have to rely on family to bring them food by boat. "It'd just be nice if someone came out and said: Are you okay?" shouted 44 year old Ian Wood, as he stood in his flooded doorway.

As relief efforts continue, emergency personnel need to be wary of dangers such as raw effluent in the water, electrical hazards and that most amazing of phenomena, crocodiles lurking just beneath the flood waters in the streets. From the balcony of one home, stranded folk see venomous snakes twisting their way through the muddy brown water, seeking refuge in trees or in the corners of submerged homes, slipping between the gaps in dislodged roof tiles. The people spot what might be a crocodile, or perhaps it’s just debris floating by…it’s hard to tell either way. But the emergency crew across the road take no chances and hop out of the water with haste.

This weekend, as waters at Rockhampton fall from their peak, residents will be faced with a massive clean-up, costing billions. Returning to their homes, they’ll be met with loved possessions totally destroyed, or at best completely engulfed in sticky black mud, perhaps ruined forever. Some houses will be demolished, roads and bridges will need repair, and last of all, the re-opening of the airport, which is expected to remain closed for weeks.

And downstream the drama continues. Smaller towns, some boasting no more than 2000 residents are bracing for the water to reach them, forecast to peak even higher than in Rockhampton. They find it hard to describe what’s worse: Knowing that it’s coming; or being helpless to do anything about it. For some, they’re only just recovering from a similar flood less than a year ago. The furniture’s been replaced, the rebuilding complete, and now this.  But these flood affected Australians are resilient. Most love where they live, and choose to stay even with such threats. Strangers flock to assist with sandbagging a single building, even when their own home has inevitably succumbed to the rising tide. A single solitary victory against the elements is enough to raise the spirits, enough to raise a smile and a laugh.

It’s the monsoon season in northern Australia. And while afternoon storms contribute little to the height of the water, the longevity of the flood is extended. But the season still has a long way to go, and everyone knows that another severe weather system could develop, and submit this part of the world to further frustration and heartbreak.

For World Report, this is Tim Stackpool in Sydney.