‘Memories of chaos’: 10 years on from the 2010-11 Qld floods
Even though 10 years have passed, SES Area Controller of the Capricornia region Patrick Downing still remembers the chaos of having to evacuate Theodore during the 2010-11 Queensland floods.
On Christmas Day in 2010, Cyclone Tasha crossed the northern Queensland coast and brought disaster to every river system south of the Tropic of Capricorn, and as far west as Longreach and Charleville.
The flooding engulfed Central Queensland towns Alpha, Jericho, Theodore, Emerald and Rockhampton.
There was a mandatory evacuation for Theodore on December 29, 2010 – the first in Queensland’s history.
In addition to the Theodore evacuation, the Queensland floods also impacted Rockhampton, with the Fitzroy River peaking at 9.2m.
Rockhampton was isolated both by land and air, with the airport flooded and the Bruce Hwy leaving the city to the south also under water.
Mr Dowling, who worked for Emergency Management Queensland during the floods, said his memories were of chaos.
He said the mandatory evacuation of Theodore wasn’t made easy.
“Preserving life was the most important thing, we had to do it,” he said.
“We knew there was a significant amount of rain and what was in Taroom would impact Theodore then cascade down to Moura and Baralaba.
“What added to it was the continuous overnight rain with all the systems full.
“The prediction from information from Bureau of Meteorology and the community was we weren’t going to have very much time in Theodore to evacuate people.
“So, the decision was made to have helicopters on standby and at first light to get in there and move people.”
He said the situation caused stress to the community.
“There were a lot of elderly people in the community who had never been in a helicopter before and a lot of people didn’t want to leave their animals,” he said.
“We had people on the ground in Theodore talking and having community meetings. Council workers, emergency services, SES, Fire and Rescue all pulled together to reassure the community we would get through it and I think it all came together.
“As long as we learn from our mistakes, engage the community a lot better and get the community more prepared then that’s half the trouble.”
SES Local Controller for Rockhampton region Eddie Cowie took part in the evacuation of Theodore and described it as “quite unique”.
Mr Cowie said many SES members dropped into the town to co-ordinate the evacuation.
“We had never been in a position where we had to evacuate an entire town before and the co-ordination ran very smoothly,” he said.
Mr Cowie said although Theodore had flooded in the past, it came as a surprise the way the town had flooded in 2010-11.
He said the devastation left behind was people not being able to get back into their own homes.
“Many homes were inundated,” he said.
“There were people still after 12 months not able to get back into their homes.
“There were businesses, infrastructure and built environments badly damaged.”
Mr Cowie said after the Theodore evacuation, Rockhampton ultimately flooded.
He said there was more than 1500 flood boat operations where more than 4000 people were transferred.
He said the lessons learnt in the 2010-11 floods were clearly captured in the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry.
“We saw we needed to be better prepared, with better prevention in place and mitigation processes,” he said.
“We saw a large amount of money injected into the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, we saw SES receive an extra 50 flood boats in the state, and we saw an injection in relation to recruitment to ensure we have a sustainable agency well into the future.”
Fire and Rescue serviceman Barry Thompson said quite a large area of Rockhampton was affected in the 2010-11 Queensland floods.
“There were evacuations at low lying areas, and it was quite upsetting for a lot of people, especially elderly people,” he said.
“There was a process in place for where people would go and how we would get those people back into their residences.
“We always learn from previous events to make sure the job is done the best way possible with the least amount of stress on the people, because it is a very stressful time for people who are affected by flood waters.”
Fire and Rescue station officer Brett Williams co-ordinated swift water rescue teams during the 2010-11 Queensland floods.
Mr Williams said because the water in Theodore came up so quickly it caught the community off guard.
He said one of the major lessons taken away from the severe weather event was better pre-planning.
With reports of a La Nina to deliver a wet summer, he urged Central Queenslanders to be prepared.
“Listen to media and reports of how much rain can be expected,” he said.