Tuesday, January 18, 2011

QLD FLOODS 2011



In Brisbane, the seriousness of the floods was probably only first realized after Toowoomba and Grantham were hit by what has now been coined "The Inland Tsunami", up until then I think the distance to Rockhampton and the other outer lying regions affected were so far away that it was almost someone else's problem. On Tuesday morning there was a palatable air of nervousness evident in the city and for many it had hit home, the floods were now heading our direction. Evacuations of businesses both in the CBD and surrounding suburbs were a confirmation of the communities concerns and a panic did begin to become apparent as swarms of umbrellas were seen heading toward bus and train terminals. We left our offices, located at a high point of the CBD just before midday and remained closed until Friday morning, although some of our staff were still unable to make it in due to road closures and most of the city remained abandoned.

My partner and I live in high density residential development area right on the river (previously Woolstores and Warehouses used to transport goods to and from Brisbane up the river), with the predicted levels it was conceivable that our ground level apartment would be affected, but with minimal time before road closures occurred, and in an aim to get to higher ground, everything was encased in large black plastic sheeting and elevated as much as possible, rear and front balconies sand bagged, valuables gathered and we left the river to do what it would do.

Luckily enough we were left unaffected, other than moving to my parents house for three days, and the apartment/ fridge losing power for much of that time, the only real clean up we had to contend with was de-jumble the puzzle of items thrown atop of each other in haste to get them a higher position.


Desperation and Panic set in as the count down to the River peak grew nearer

As far as projects affected, our major project is a residential development currently in its pre-sales phase located near Newstead and Fortitude Valley areas, both impacted by the flood. The project site is however located on a high point and was not impacted directly by the flooding. The true impact on this project is yet to be seen, the floods will no doubt affect the economy and market confidence, during the city's recovery stages, and in turn determine the progress of this project.

Several of the staff from our offices were out in the community lending a hand in both helping salvage other people's property prior to the flood peak and cleanup afterwards.
I was out and about volunteering on Sunday in the New Farm area (on the Northern side of the River 5min from the CBD), and met many people who had had their houses inundated by flood waters.

One gentleman, 90 years of age, living in an elevated timber house, whose only impact had been his garden and driveway, in a street where many had lost so much more, showed interesting insight into the situation. He had lived in the same house since 1950, and said the area was prone to flooding every February, although obviously not to this extent, and when we offered to clean up his garden, driveway and pavement for him, he asked if it wasn't a little premature...Which makes me think with his years of experience he knows something we don't ....
Local businesses close to the River were using what they had as they nervously awaited the high tide

HISTORY of BRISBANE- FLOODS & RIVER
Brisbane was settled in 1824, which is less than two hundred years of European settlement, in which time we have seen many floods both great and small always preceded and followed by great droughts.

Brisbane is a natural flood plain, the areas surrounding Brisbane known as the greater areas " food bowl" is profitable farming land as a result of  the geography and the collection of water and rich soils washed through the valleys.

Even the Crabs were moving to higher ground - as crowds gathered to watch the waters rise at TENERIFFE

The nature of the environment in which we live has many benefits, but on the flip side of the coin it is balanced by its negatives. It is only when we understand the dichotomy of the two and respect both, learning from and setting strict guidelines not persuaded by the temptations of development, that we can truly protect our people and limit the impact on infrastructure in the future.

The cities approach to the Brisbane River over the last few decades has changed, where previously many developments turned their back on the brown meandering Brisbane river, in recent years with the rehabilitation of the Brisbane river from brown slick to a more blue hue, it has become desirable to not only have river views but riverside property. Combined with increased density and housing costs, development both residential and commercial now encroach on the river banks, with council approvals allowing for habitable spaces well below the levels of the 1974 flood heights.

Brisbane River walk collected much debris as well as wayward pontoons before
breaking away and escaping down the river aswell.

It is understandable over time, the collective forget the severity of previous events, people move away from areas previously affected, and others, younger or from other towns and other countries move in, a changing of the guard takes place, but what should stay set in stone are the guidelines unwavering, there to protect people and their houses. It is however with both complacency and almost an air of arrogance, drawn from a lack of knowledge of the area, that we as a community were in agreement, with the employment of the Wyvenhoe Dam after the 1974 flood, it could NEVER and would NEVER happen again.... And you know what they say about "NEVER"

Cnr of Albert & Charlotte Sts Brisbane CBD Thursday 13/01/11

SUGGESTIONS for CHANGE
In regards to the guidelines for the Brisbane area; they need to address both issues related to urban planning and architecture.

As far as urban planning and infrastructure, some are suggesting another dam to alleviate the pressure that was put on the Wyvenhoe, which reached capacity and had to be opened fully during the worst period of flooding.

As a possible alternative to this it might be worth considering a water storage system under the main streets of Brisbane, that could both work in drought and floods to draw away some of the volume of water in the dam as levels rise, but could be paired with localized filtration systems to collect storm water that does not fall in the dam catchment area during drought - at a minimum supplying water for all non-potable requirements.

Boy playing in flood waters Cnr Albert & Margaret Sts Brisbane CBD 13/01/11

Also those properties that have seen their roofs disappear to the rising water should either be; bought out by the government/ council and converted to green space , to be relinquished to flood waters when required, or encouraged to raise property levels and living spaces to limit the impact of future rising waters.

As far as architecture we need to be taking a page out of the book of experiences of the early settlers of the region, who learnt to work with the environmental conditions. The early "Queenslander" type of house , employed stumps to separate the living spaces from the terrain, to address issues of ventilation, vermin and excessive rain, creating a living floating platform. In an aim to increase living space and density in our cities, councils have allowed these original type houses to build- in their on-ground levels. Other more "modern" house types have followed, borrowed from our southern cousins or even those further afield, which are both unsuitable in design and in construction and hold little regard for our climatic conditions, more concerned with a prescribed look or a fashionable style.

Eagle St Pier Carpark inundated by flood waters 8 hrs after the peak

We should be encouraging a local vernacular which is both adaptable and responsive to our opposing weather conditions , which is less about dressing and more about planning.

Most recently , what is of greater concern to us that in an aim to return to normal conditions, and in an aim to alleviate the stress of those affected by the floods, those managing recovery efforts are encouraging trades people to lend a hand to speed up the process. Seeing only what was there before reinstated, as opposed to a more considered approach, which may indeed take time and cause slightly more frustration, but it would be nothing compared to a repeat of the current situation and conditions.