It started in the unlikeliest of places. Toowoomba sprawls 2,000 feet above sea level in an extinct volcano. Marrying the word tsunami with Toowoomba seems ludicrous. 2009 the dam level fell below 8% after 10 years of drought where cars went unwashed. Yet Toowoomba was almost swept away by the genesis of a flash flood that is best expressed as a “tsunami”. A creek morphed into a water wall of death and destruction, tossing vehicles, even cargo containers around like Styrofoam.
A local pharmacist wrote in an email:
Toowoomba is indeed a disaster area. I had been in the downtown area only hours earlier, and just wonder at my reaction to that wall of water which came with no warning.
I am living and working in North Toowoomba, which is higher than the downtown area- and yesterday was still subject to localized creek flooding and storm water backup. The Pharmacy flooded within 10mins of water flowing on the footpath, so we changed from mopping to sweeping the water out the back door, within minutes.
We all looked like extras from Fantasia- Mickey Mouse and the sorcerer’s apprentice. A group of young men just appeared and assisted with the whole process, so with their help. We were able to maintain the water level at just lapping the lowest shelf( about 15-20cm) , otherwise it would have been much higher. We swept for 3 hours as the water was relentless.
The tragic and miraculous stories just keep emerging. One semi driver who witnessed the family floating past him with the children’s faces scratching at the window will remain with him forever. One young girl on Monday, dropped her prescriptions to collect later, drove from us and into the deluge- fortunately, as she was being swept down into the force of the river of no return, she was hit sideways by a washing machine floating by. At that point she was forced on to the other side of the road, where a truck rammed her out of harm’s way. She is safe, the car a wreck, and fortunately her highly medicated clients were seemingly unaware of the drama unfolding and just wanted to know “are you here yet?”
Residents saved themselves, each other and animals. Wild kangaroos sat docilely in open boats seeming to understand that their stillness was required for their own safety. Horses, cows, domestic animals were guided through the water, swimming behind their human pilots.
A $15 million program created to issue early email warnings to residents sent messages 6 hours after their homes were under a deluge of brown rushing torrent.
Lockyer Creek tore through its own banks and raged down the highway in a huge muddy ball, 10 feet high and a mile and a half wide.
One resident said the raging water caused “havoc” and in the midst of that a baby was delivered in the Lockyer Valley.
First families then whole towns clung to gutters then clambered onto roofs. Roofs were swept away from the homes and floated away. Helicopters plucked the lucky ones from the moving roofs.
The water wall barreled south toward to Brisbane, the 3rd largest city in Australia. The city was deserted, the last one out turned the power off. Power and water do not mix. Can you imagine evacuating an entire city and turning the lights out wondering what would be there when you returned? Power off, they waited for the wall of destruction. Not a creeping crawling flood that slowly and silently finds its way up things, but a wall of water that pummels and rages bringing cars, trees, parts of houses and bodies with it.
Agriculture and beef stocks ruined. First responders desperately searched for the stranded. Jordan Rice 13 begged rescuers to save his 10 year old brother and mother. They took the 10 year old and returning for him and his mother they discovered they were both gone.
The Premier (Governor) Anna Bligh called the event "a complete freak of nature", saying the flooding had come "out of nowhere".
A Brisbane resident located in the flood zone sat on his roof, surrounded by swirling water and the roofs of his neighboring homes. Poisonous snakes swim in chest high waves in his home, his vehicles float and bump around in his garage and large appliances and furniture float through his yard.
A bull shark reportedly swam through a main street probably in search of food.
Now Brisbane waits for the water to recede. Will the catchment dam below hold? The Wivenhoe Dam built as the “giant shock absorber” to take in the excess water from Queensland’s storms after the 1974 floods. It was at 150% of its safe capacity a few days ago. Water has been frantically released flooding the plains below, but is it enough? With 75% of the huge state under water the citizens hold their breath and hope and pray it holds.
Living in a volcano crater, building a city on a reclaimed swamp (Brisbane) or below sea level (New Orleans) works until it is needed for its original purpose.
We could live where floods never drown, where earthquakes never shake, where weather never betrays but then we would all be on the moon.