Brisbane, Australia old-timers still remember the flood of 1974 when in the month of January, a combination of heavy rains and cyclone activity resulted in devastating floods that killed 3 people, inundated 6700 homes and caused damage estimated at $200 million at 1974 values.
January 1974 is now going to take a backseat to the floods of January 2011, that have already resulted in more fatalities and scores of missing with some presumed dead, and is expected to slice 1% off the Australian economy or $13 billion.
The Australian dollar has already declined against the American dollar to a three week low. Coal companies that have been flooded and shut down and the insurance companies who have to cover losses have taken a beating on the stock market. Coal prices are climbing because it will take two to three months to restore regular production. Projections are for a 25% decline in coking coal exports and an 8% drop in cotton exports.
Despite the economic disruption and the funds that the Australian government will undoubtedly have to earmark for relief efforts, Prime Minister Julia Gillard is digging in and refusing to exceed the budget by making cuts in other areas. Some economists believe she is not being sufficiently realistic.
Brisbane, Australia's third-largest city that in recent years actually experienced water rationing as a result of prolonged drought, resembles the set of a disaster movie with people thronging Brisbane airport to escape the impending disaster. Those who intend to wait it out are piling up sandbags.
As a precautionary measure, electricity will be shut off from 100,000 homes and businesses. The weekend pictures showed Brisbane residents stoically viewing a tennis match under the cover of their umbrellas. The stoicism is now gone. This is a result of what occurred in the city of Toowoomba. Here unprecedented downpours, which the meteorologists measured at 180mm of rain in one hour, created a tsunami effect. This sudden inundation was responsible for a spike in casualties as the sudden appearance of the raging waters caught people by surprise. Some took refuge on the roofs of houses, but it was difficult to get rescue helicopters into the air as fast as cars and houses were swept away.
The worst might not yet be over, but the soul-searching has begun. It goes back to 1974 and back to floods in the 19th century. The intervals between natural disasters may be long but eventually the floods return.
This reality was ignored in the building boom that characterized Queensland Australia. Developments sprang up on areas previously ravaged by floods. For example the creeks that wreaked such havoc this week were integrated into urban beautification projects complete with boardwalks and gardens. The Prime Minister of Queensland, Anna Bligh, warned residents of her state this week "if you live near the water you are on red alert".
Veterans of 1974 claim that they had warned the architects and landscapers that some of the plans invited disaster; their warnings were disregarded. The new residents, once they rebuild, will now refer back to 2011 and hopefully their construction will take a flood of experience into account.