This year marks 5 years since the Queensland floods of 2010–11, which brought devastation to almost the entire state and the tragic loss of more than 30 lives.
Department of Human Services Region Manager Robert Williams, who was one of many on the ground helping in the aftermath, reflects on his experience on the front line.
“Thinking back, we were getting a number of emergency messages from the bureau, but there was no way we could’ve known just how big it was going to be,” he said.
“It was like you blinked and all of a sudden there were these incredible scenes of devastation. For Brisbane and Ipswich it was slightly different in that we knew what was coming down the river.”
And down the river the water came.
“The incredible amount of flooding covered more than 78% of Queensland. To put that in perspective, the floods covered an area greater than twice the size of France!” Robert explained.
“We were lucky in Brisbane, in that we had time to prepare, and that gave us the opportunity to keep people safe. That wasn’t an opportunity much of the rest of the state had.”
With no time to reflect on the damage caused, it was a case of helping affected customers as soon as possible.
“Given the amount of damage across the state, the only way to help people process their emergency claims and help them get back on their feet was to physically get out to them,” Robert said.
“With help from the defence force, we had staff being helicoptered into affected areas, which was incredible.
“Our staff were absolutely amazing. They’d work themselves into the ground getting to customers and processing their claims.”
A number of the department’s service centres were affected by the flooding, but Robert remembers staff working tirelessly to re-open the doors as soon as possible.
“I particularly remember Goodna, an area about 20km from Brisbane. I was a regular visitor to our service centre there and I always thought it was up a significant hill and would be relatively safe from a potential flood,” he said.
“But it was inundated – flooded up to its roof. Nevertheless, the staff had that place open for business within 3 weeks. It was the only business open for kilometres.
“I think it says something about the spirit of our organisation, in how we throw ourselves in, get things up and running so we can help people as quickly as possible. Other businesses in the area took months to reopen and sadly many of those never returned.”
- Read more about help in an emergency