Qld flood survivors exposed to raw sewage
Survivors of a devastating flood that claimed 12 lives were allowed back into their small Queensland town despite the risk of serious infection from raw sewage in the streets, an inquiry has heard.
Lockyer Valley Regional Mayor Steve Jones told the Grantham Floods Commission of Inquiry on Thursday he wanted to provide protective equipment and counsellors for residents before they were allowed to return to the town after the deadly flood on January 10, 2011.
But Mr Jones said police told residents they would be allowed back in before safety arrangements could be made, making it all but impossible to convince frustrated residents to wait longer to re-enter Grantham.
Mr Jones said although the residents wouldn’t have thought to be aware of raw sewage in the streets, soldiers cleaning up in the weeks after the disaster had felt the effects.
“The infection and the issues that they had were quite extreme,” Mr Jones told the inquiry.
“In some cases, I believe, they were only allowed to be in for a certain time because of the effect it had on them.”
The mayor said it wasn’t the only breakdown in communication, initially hitting out at how long it took for state agencies to request support from the defence force.
Mr Jones said he was shocked at the time to hear an official request for Black Hawk helicopter support from nearby Oakey wasn’t made until the day after Grantham’s 12 flood victims were swept to their deaths.
“When you deal with disasters the size of what we’ve had to deal with, it’s very obvious the need (for defence support) and the process, whatever it be, needs to be quickly put in place,” he said.
It wasn’t until he gave evidence at the inquiry that Mr Jones realised support had been requested from Oakey about 4pm on the day of the flood, but fog prevented the helicopters from assisting until the next day.
Mr Jones said the communication breakdown arose because Australian Defence Force personnel weren’t part of government-led disaster management groups at the time, but that had since changed.
Geotechnical engineer David Starr also told the inquiry the first evidence he could see of an embankment wall deliberately being built on a quarry on the outskirts of Grantham was in 2001.
One of the inquiry’s key focus is investigating what role, if any, the embankment wall had on the flood’s ferocity or the amount of time residents had to evacuate.
Residents, who believe the wall worsened flooding, campaigned for the inquiry after a broader probe in 2012 found the quarry didn’t have an impact.