Flood Recovery Support – Murphys Creek and Lowood

On Friday 14th January 2011 a page came asking for members available for deployment to the western areas badly affected by the floods. They were for three single days; Saturday, Sunday and Monday with an early start and a return home each evening. TM 51 and TM52 were there on each day with a total of 8 or 9 crew, mostly older members, on each day.

Some days were oversubscribed and one or more members had to drop out. On Sunday Maria and Peter W joined a truck from another Brigade and did very effective work. In addition TM81 deployed each day to Ipswich to help with distributing meals. The two attached photos show most of our Saturday contingent and the briefing at Beenleigh.

The Brigade deployed to other areas on other days but his note describes only the events of Saturday and Monday which saw us working at Murphys Creek and Lowood respectively. Start time was 0500 at the Station on Saturday and 0530 on Monday. Return times were 2030 and 1800. The time taken up by multiple briefings at various locations was excessive on Saturday but less so on Monday.

The floods in the two places were different; a sudden torrent at Murphys Creek but steadily rising water from the Brisbane River at Lowood.  The flood at MC was much more dangerous and more damaging. The Google map shows the situation at MC.  A modest creek, blue on the map, winds along through trees on the northern edge the community of some 450 people. It had not been known to flood previously but this time, due to the massive rainfall over a short period in the large catchment area upstream, a wall of water came rushing down smashing all before it.

The water completely overflowed the creek and poured out right through the town, travelling NW to SE. Most properties were affected but those nearest to the creek were hardest hit and, tragically, lives were lost. But there were also remarkable rescues. The MCRFB shed was effectively destroyed and the MC51 truck was buried up to its windows in silt and rubble.

Our job was to call, usually on foot, at each house in our assigned zone – roughly along the southern side of the creek – and provide help where needed. Much good recovery work had already been done by the residents themselves, by official support agencies and by ad hoc volunteers who pitched up from far and wide to help.  All those we called on were pleased to be visited but most said that they had everything in hand. That left plenty to do elsewhere.

The biggest task we took on was at a large bungalow near the creek. The owners had been rescued from the roof top but were back at home and thanked us enthusiastically for our work. The house had been flooded internally to about 1.2 metres deep and most of the furniture and other contents were ruined.

Job number one was to get all this (now) junk outside onto big piles to be trucked away later. When things such as a carpet or a mattress are saturated with wet mud they become extraordinarily heavy and hard to handle but with help from the Gatton SES and visiting angels we got the job done. The house floor and its surroundings were covered in about 200 mm of sticky, slippery, smelly mud. This was removed mainly by shovelling into barrows and dumping on the grass away from the house – without the barrows we probably would not have succeeded within the day. Three small boys, part of a visiting family of helpers, worked hard and effectively with bucket and spade.

Then we hosed the floors down. Getting the water in was easy – getting it out was hard. The dirty liquid flowed internally from room to room and dammed up at the doorway sills; much brushing eventually got most of it out. Using a fire hose worked well for a shed, garage or patio with a concrete floor.

The local pub was a very effective evacuation centre and a welcome and welcoming meal stop for the volunteers. The job completed we headed for home with debriefings and thanks in the reverse order to those on the way out.

On Monday we went first to the PCYC in Ipswich and were briefed to work at Lowood. This we did via further briefings at Fernvale and Lowood fire station. The Google map of Lowood shows that it is a small farming community a few km south of the Wivenhoe Dam spillway. On the day of the flood the river rose steadily but quite quickly and flooded the lower lying properties. In some cases there was much damage to ground level crops and to their irrigation equipment. On the other hand there were large herds of cattle all of whom were sleek contentment itself with fresh green grass all around.

Our job was again to call, on foot, upon residents in our assigned zone which was generally north from the town boundary towards Wivenhoe. The local High School was set up as an evacuation centre and also as a ‘one stop shop’ for all aspects of practical and financial assistance to flood victims. It was good to be able to advise those we called on of this local service. Again we were always warmly welcomed. We did some hosing and cleaning out but much less than at Murphys Creek. At one place Neville and Kim hosed fresh, clean water into bowls for three nice dogs left shut up in a shed – perhaps our best deed of the day.

Lunch was served at Fernvale by a Gold Coast catering company whose owners had come as volunteers with their own vehicle, barbie, food and drinks to serve all the other volunteers. This made the excellent grub doubly welcome.

Finally, with debriefings and thanks at Lowood and then at Fernvale we headed for home. It was a privilege to be a small part of the huge volunteer effort across Queensland.

Footnote:

People have asked how a ‘wall of water’ such as that which hit towns in the Lockyer Valley could happen. The answer is; quite easily – if the ground in the catchment area is already saturated. Suppose rain falls at the rate of 100 mm per hour on a catchment of 10 km by 10 km. This rainfall rate corresponds to the orange-red transition on the radar rainfall maps (the dark brown means over 360 mm/hr).  Every second that puts some 2,700 cubic metres of rain on the catchment. If it is saturated already almost all the water runs off. In turn that corresponds to a ‘wall of water’ 100 metres wide and 2.5 metres high travelling at 11 metres/second – 40 kph – flooding creek banks or running through a town centre. 2,700 tonnes of water arrive every second. No wonder there is destruction.

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