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Brisbane floods: before and after (abc.net.au)
178 points by mjfern on Jan 18, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 129 comments

I live in Brisbane (I'm fine). I helped with the clean up - cooking about 200 hot dogs last Saturday for the volunteers. The sight was absolutely unbelievable. Houses were gutted. Garbage furniture all over the streets, piles taller than me.

One thing I will never forget though. The smell.

Btw I took this really bad video, but it gives a sense of the atmosphere there. (I was busy, my iphone in the other hand)


Yeah, 200 hot dogs would leave a stench that time can't erase.

(But congrats for getting out there - you have the support of those of us in the other states.)

There is so much to do. No doubt next week-end I'm at it again. there is an unbelievable solidarity though.

You can also help, interstate, by donating money. They will need it.

Anyone got any recommendations on where to best donate the money? Red Cross?

If you donate at Crown they will match your donation. Probably have to physically be here though.

Already done, and now waiting to see how they go with the Victorian flooding!

from what I could read, it won't be as bad. However any floods in any region is a disaster and shouldn't be played down.

The weird thing is having friends in affected areas and living in an unaffected area. While some were losing their homes, I was just not allowed into work. A bit surreal to be honest.

Still not allowed back into work though :\

Yes, living in a mostly unaffected area I find it a bit hard to connect to the scale of the event, even though it's happening on my doorstep. I can see some damage from where I am (like the river walk), but these pictures were actually very useful to bring home the scale of it.

The 2011 linux.conf.au conference is going ahead next week in spite of the flood: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2112337

"The team encourages everyone to still come to Brisbane and support local business and the community - we need your support!"

After having been through the after-effects of an earthquake where I live it's been clear to see the difference it makes for businesses that can open to have custom.

"But in the mud and scum of things, There always, something sings." ~Emerson

There is an inherent conflict between using a dam for drinking water and using it for flood management. That the Wivenhoe was and is used for both is not a surprise, particularly after the droughts leading up to 2008, but the flooding raises serious questions about how sensible that would be in future.

That said, the Wivenhoe in this case did precisely what it was meant to do, and those who operated it did an admirable job under extremely trying circumstances, IMHO. It simply wasn't designed to cope with the volumes of rainfall that occurred, afaict.

I hope the forthcoming inquiry will not focus so much on the smaller-scale "tactical" decisions that led up to the flooding (it will be news to nobody if it turns out some mistakes were made: I'm sure there were), but more on the state's water management strategy as a whole. Unfortunately the news reporting I've seen so far has already tended towards the former.

It's water management strategy that has failed SE Queensland twice in the last few years: first when the water nearly ran out after the drought, and now only two years later there's too much water by half. Neither drought nor flood are strangers to Australia, so half-arsed measures and excuses should not cut it for anybody. Increasingly unstable weather conditions caused by climate change make it even more urgent that we get this right.

Also relevant to this is a submission I posted last week which didn't get any attention unfortunately: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2096644 about a site - http://FightTheFloods.com which my partner and I created to try and help those who are in need of assistance (volunteers, supplies whatever) to get the message out to people who may be able to help. Since I launched it last Wednesday, it's reached 350+ people registered, and I've personally seen a number of the requests for assistance be fulfilled, so I think it's made at least a bit of a difference to someone, so therefore it's been worthwhile.

Interesting there is no "outrage" yet in the media regarding this disaster. I was raised in New Orleans, LA, so I see these types of things differently. And on the surface, Brisbane looks eerily similar to NOLA.

Is this an event that could have been prevented or is this a 1000 year flood?

Differences between this and Katrina:

1. The Australian media doesn't run on a 24-hour "outrage" cycle. We don't have any way to blame this on some targeted political figure (though certainly political figures have come in for some criticism). People will get blamed (particularly those who were in charge of the dam that was supposed to prevent this from happening again) but it'll happen slowly and in a controlled manner, not in a rapid flurry of 24-hour-news-station activity. We have a procedure for finger-pointing, and it's called a Royal Commission... we'll spend a year investigating and holding hearings and then eventually find the correct people at whom to tut-tut.

2. The death toll is relatively low. Very low in Brisbane itself (where the rise of the floodwaters was gentle) and a mere dozen or so in other parts of the state (where flash floods did occur). Sad and all that, but still on a relatively small scale.

3. No breakdown of order. Partly because a river flood is nothing like a hurricane (the city itself wasn't cut off, and if you're in an affected area you can walk five blocks to an unaffected area) and partly because of the different quality of people in the two cities.

4. New Orleans already had serious problems (poverty, race relations) which were only exacerbated. Brisbane was a pretty nice place, and it's still a pretty nice place (except for the parts which are now ruined).

In answer to your question, though, this isn't a once-in-1000-year flood... more a twice-a-century sort of flood... we had floods in the 1890s and again in 1974. The Wivenhoe Dam was constructed to prevent the 1974 flood from ever happening again. It didn't work, partly because the folks in charge of operating the dam didn't start releasing water until it was too late... which was itself partly because they've been worrying for most of the last decade about running out of water and forgot that too much water is also a problem.

There's a reason why the architectural style known as a "Queenslander" is a house on stilts though -- Queensland is not a stranger to floods.

... I would wait until the royal commission before I lay blame on dam operators.

I suspect, that much of the flood waters came from the Lockyer Creek (the waterway that was the source of those horrendous videos from Toowoomba) - which actually feed into the brisbane river _downstream_ of Wivenhoe dam, meaning that the dam couldn't stop a large chunk of the flood water from entering the Brisbane river. See this map here: http://maps.google.com.au/?ie=UTF8&ll=-27.409109,152.603...

So maybe part of the blame should be placed on the Dam designers... But perhaps other topological constraints prevented the Dam from being located further downstream?

Lots of pieces to the puzzle and I don't think it is as simple as just the dam operators waiting till it was too late..

You could very well be right.

I certainly hope that the answer to "Why was Brisbane flooded" turns out to be primarily "Mother Nature is a bitch" rather than "Random public servant Joe Bloggs screwed up big time".

Yes, and the reason is that raised houses with wide verandahs and 'wind tunnel' halls from front to back door are excellent for keeping cool during boiling hot summers.

As for the dam management, the principles of operation are deliberately not subject to political whim, so were considered appropriate at the time. There was also more water then in 1974 AND a king tide, so there are some mitigating factors. Only the full inquest will really tell for sure.

More water or just no dam to save them from the worst of it?

There was more water this time around than there was in 1974, but the flood levels were higher in 1974 because there was no dam then.

Wivenhoe dam[1] did work as flood mitigation, but there were concerns during the flood as the water level was spiking quickly towards maximum storage[2], so some water was being let out (apparently about half of what was going in).

If the dam did get to full capacity its automatic system would have fully opened the flood gates, potentially making the flood situation quickly worsen even more.

[1] http://www.seqwater.com.au/public/catch-store-treat/dams/wiv...

[2] http://www.seqwater.com.au/public/dam-levels

See the interactive graph at the bottom of the page, you can choose to see only Wivenhoe's storage level history. Its level is almost back to 100% which is the normal water storage level, not the full flood mitigation level.

Except that a Queenslander is built on stilts primarily for heat-related reasons, and flood avoidance is only a byproduct.

> The Australian media doesn't run on a 24-hour "outrage" cycle.

We do have bloggers who don't mind slipping the boot into each other. Two sites I host (catallaxyfiles.com and larvatusprodeo.net) have been sniping from both sides of the standard political divide.

The US could do with a few Royal Commissions...

I'll say it damn well could. The idea of a Royal Commission is one of the ideas I'd really like to import from Australia to the US.

Actually the idea of a Royal Commission is just part of a smaller idea missing from US governance: the idea that an organ of the government can be completely non-partisan. Royal Commissions are instigated by politicians, but they're expected to exist far above the fray of ordinary politics; certainly I've never heard of any accusations that a Royal Commission is biased one way or the other.

Other examples of entities which manage in Australia to escape the partisanship which dominates them in the US are the High (Supreme) Court and the process for redrawing the boundaries of electoral districts.

certainly I've never heard of any accusations that a Royal Commission is biased one way or the other.

For this American, that sounds like not being allowed to talk about their bias. I would guess that many Americans do not believe in an unbiased group of any sort, at any level.

I would guess that many Americans do not believe in an unbiased group of any sort, at any level.

Yes, that's kindof what I was trying to say. And I think to some extent it's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course people are only human and have their biases, but if you create a social expectation that they'll be unbiased (and combine this with choosing the best people for the job -- old judges with nothing in particular to gain or lose and a well-earned reputation for impartiality) then they will be as unbiased as humanly possible.

The "Royal" in the title is no accident, though -- the traditions of the Commonwealth countries dictate that the Crown is above all politics, so anything expected to be above politics is always given a direct symbolic link to the monarchy. In the US there is no such thing and the highest power in the land is just another damn politician.

One might, perhaps going only a little too far, wonder whether the American political need to constantly invoke God comes from not having a Queen instead.

> Actually the idea of a Royal Commission is just part of a smaller idea missing from US governance: the idea that an organ of the government can be completely non-partisan.

Yes, but they are rarely used, for two reasons.

1. They resemble the Star Chamber in their powers and setup. The Common Law has an unflattering cultural memory of this time in its history.

2. Their independence makes them dangerous to the commissioning government. For political reasons various watered-down sorts of inquiry are preferred instead.

> Royal Commissions are instigated by politicians, but they're expected to exist far above the fray of ordinary politics; certainly I've never heard of any accusations that a Royal Commission is biased one way or the other.

The Costigan Commission has been accused of bias, or at least going outside its terms of reference.

> Other examples of entities which manage in Australia to escape the partisanship which dominates them in the US are the High (Supreme) Court and the process for redrawing the boundaries of electoral districts.

I'm not sure why the HCA has avoided such a divisive culture as in the US. Probably because our jurisprudence has evolved in a quite different direction from the USA's in terms of constitutional interpretation. Simplifying grossly, the US model is "realist", taking the view that all judges are biased and that policy consideration affects judicial decisions; the Australian model is more "legalist", in that every attempt is made to ignore the policy implications and attend only to the law.

Of course in both countries the debate is far more complex and nuanced than that; but in Australia our judges have developed a theory of interpretation that blends legalism[1] and a general rejection of originalism/purposefulness[2]. This latter strand has caused the original design of the federation to be steadily turned inside out.

As for electoral boundaries, yes, having independent electoral commissions is a huge boon to our country and something that should be more widely replicated. In terms of electoral systems Australia is a world leader in many areas.

[1] Justice Sir Owen Dixon championed this view and shaped the post-50s court. He said upon becoming Chief Justice: "Close adherence to legal reasoning is the only way to maintain the confidence of all parties in federal conflicts. It may be that the Court is thought to be excessively legalistic. I should be sorry to think that it is anything else. There is no other safe guide to judicial decisions in great conflicts than a strict and complete legalism". His thinking in this case was shaped by the previous appointment of politicians to the High Court.

[2] Justice Isaacs introduced this mode of reasoning in the famous Engineers case.

> and partly because of the different quality of people in the two cities.

What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Why is it different?

Most people in Australia know of the extremes of the place. So major fires, droughts, floods, storms and cyclones are only a matter of when, rather than if.

It's not a 1000 year flood. These types of things happen at least once every 50 years (plus more frequent minor floods) going back about 170 years to the written history. The major dam built to mitigate (not prevent) flooding arguably might have performed better to lower the peak, but the flood event came after a month of record rainfall, and the dam operators followed the manual given to them. That might need review for future operations, but it's not like someone did something rash or stupid.

Australia is not a place of high social tension, or of high crime. Brisbane itself is a sunny, peaceful city with a normally benign river winding through the middle. When a disaster strikes, people are more likely to muck in and help out their less fortunate neighbours than to try and steal their stuff. Not that looting doesn't happen - some does, but there is plenty of incidents where citizens have interrupted looters and run them out of town.

Another feature of Brisbane flooding is that it affects rich and poor equally. Some of the most expensive houses front the river and have private pontoons (most of which are now in the ocean) - these get flooded. Some of the poorer areas are built in low-lying land, which also gets flooded. So it's not a class thing in that only the poor get affected. Some of the worst hit suburbs are also the most expensive suburbs to live.

As to why Australia tends to come together rather than fall apart - well, that would make for a fascinating social study. Personally I see it enshrined as part of the nations (and especially Queensland) culture - fair go, mateship, sticking together when the chips are down, having strength in adversity. You can probably explain as much when the most celebrated annual military parade day (Anzac day) commemorates Australia first and greatest military defeat, whereas there are no parades celebrating Australian military victories.

Or, to sum up even more succinctly, despite sharing a language and both being previous colonies, Australia and America are fundamentally different countries in many ways.

There are parts of America where people, when disaster strikes, will band together and help each other out.

There are other parts of America where people, when disaster strikes, will start looting and setting fire to police cars.

Australia just happens to resemble the best parts of America rather than the worst parts, in this regard.

Anyone care to explain why this is downvoted?

It implies that the people of New Orleans were basically to blame for there problems which some think is unfair.

> Australia just happens to resemble the best parts of America rather than the worst parts, in this regard.

Anyone who was sensing racial overtones in the first 2 sentences pretty much has their confirmation here. I don't know if the author intended this or not but if he did have a point regarding race and/or culture to make then it should be made with more intellectual honesty and evidence/reasoning. Instead it comes of as snide at best.

I though the outrage for New Orleans was most about about the authorities response to the floods. In Brisbane the response is seen as being pretty good.

The last flood in 1974 was slightly worse and there have been worse ones in 1893 and 1841. So I guess you could say we are a bit prone to flooding. A damn was built in 1984 to mitigate the effects but it was close to full due to exceptional rain leading up to the main deluge. The damn still helped considerably and allowed them to block some water flow at high tide, but there is some suggestion that more proactive emptying earlier would have helped.

The Queensland Police facebook page http://www.facebook.com/QueenslandPolice is pretty interesting. Nearly everyone I know subscribed. Did a great job keeping people up to date, stopping panic, dispelling rumors, organizing workers. Pretty much the first time in my life I've appreciated Web 2.0 :) (Well, until the mobile towers went down...)

One thing that the whole event showed was how the government websites don't stand up to high loads whereas the mega sites (google, facebook, twitter) have no problem with such a localised situation. To cope with emergencies like this, the relevant govt agencies will have to look at distributed architectures possibly incorporating offshore cloud based services.

I think the police usage of Facebook was inspired. It's free for the police, there's an existing distribution mechanism in place, it's highly scalable and it's canonical, which can quickly cut down rumors. Twitter became a festering swamp of rumors and BS, whereas being subscribed to the QPS facebook page meant high quality information.

I tried to get onto the Moreton shire council to find a road closures list, and was faced with a downloadable MS Word document. There's the two extremes for you.

One thing that governments everywhere should learn from this is that maintaining and using Twitter and Facebook from established, trusted accounts is a very good way of getting information out there. Even if only a tiny fraction of the population are subscribed, they can quickly disseminate information to neighbours and family members.

I think the BOM should look into it.

The last flood in 1974 reached higher levels in Brisbane, but I haven't seen anything explaining to what extent (if any) the flood levels were lower this time because of the dam? Would it have been even worse without the dam?

At the very least it let them control the flow a little bit so we didn't just get hit by a massive wave all in one go.

> Would it have been even worse without the dam?

This is part of what the Royal Commission will sort out.

I think the general consensus is that the flooding would have been worse than 1974 had the dam not mitigated what it did. Investigations and modelling will determine to what extent the releases from the dam increased the flood level.

I expect the outcome will be a new operating manual for the Dam, and more frequent minor flooding in keeping with an aggressive plan of keeping the dam at 100% (water storage) level, leaving the extra 100% of flood mitigation level free as soon as possible.

Another possible outcome may be more dams on some of the other river systems, such as the Bremer river.

Who would be the target of this outrage? I know nothing about Aussie politics, honest question.

A Royal Commission has been launched to investigate. In Australian law these are the most powerful forms of inquiry. An RC is completely independent of the government, cannot be influenced by Ministers or Parliament, has very broad powers to find evidence and even to compel witnesses, can decide independently what to investigate subject to its terms of reference and can draw any conclusions it wishes.

Generally they are led by respected judges with technical experts in support. So sweeping are their powers that they are only ever appointed in the most extreme situations, such as massive natural disasters (Victoria bushfires, now Queensland floods) or revelations of severe maladministration (corruption in Queensland and NSW police forces).

The Royal Commission into the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria did point to individual as well as systemic failures. Some of these individuals were seen as being close enough to the government that the Royal Commission's findings contributed to the downfall of the government at a subsequent election.

Well the political hierarchy is something like:

- Campbell Newman, Lord Mayor of Brisbane - Anna Bligh, Premier of Queensland - Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia

I think it's pretty unlikely that you could pin the blame on any of them and they all responded well once the crisis happened.

The operating rules for the Wivenhoe dam (which is supposed to mitigate this kind of thing) decide how much water can be released and when, and that is set at the state level (i.e. by Queensland state government), so probably Anna Bligh is the easiest target in that respect.

I saw an official describe the dam operating rules as "conservative", but I'm not sure in which direction they are conservative - in the direction of minimising releases or minimising risk of overflow.

The Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh, is widely considered to have actually done quite well out of the election - has been seen to have reacted quickly, done her part, said the right things, etc.

There are a few scammers rightfully copping it, but it's been a pretty galvanising event in Australia.

I think the fact that she was genuinely emotionally upset helped.


shock jocks will blame the greens "for not letting us build more dams" or some other rubbish.

greens (like me) will blame poor planning for building cities and major infrastructure on known flood plains.

Not just shock jocks. Normal people as well.

Your policy response, which can be paraphrased as 'don't build dams, move major cities' is idealogically warped and just wishful thinking. You would find it hard outside of your peer group to find anyone to take you seriously.

The cities are where they are. It's not a surprise that Brisbane and Ipswich floods - the very first parts of written QLD history contain stories of immense flooding events.

More flood mitigation via Dams is the only sensible and possible response. More dams also has the side effect of more water supplies and possibly more hydro-electric power.

"Your policy response, which can be paraphrased as 'don't build dams, move major cities' is idealogically warped and just wishful thinking."

I could be wrong, but I think he's suggesting not building on the areas of the city which form the flood plain, not the whole city.

We have an accurate record of which areas of the City were flooded in 1974. The areas that flooded recently are a subset of those areas. People were allowed to build in these areas because the Dam was supposed to have mitigated the risk. We could have kept zoning plans in place to deter building in these areas and still had a vibrant city built up around them. More river-front parkland to boot!

It doesn't matter if it is 5% of a city or the whole city, it's not going to happen. The areas that were flooded now were mostly populated in 1974. There's a popular meme going around that huge areas of previously-vacant land was built upon. While that might be true in some instances of outer suburbs, in general the flooded suburbs of Brisbane were the same ones as all the previous floods.

As I've already stated, if you want to clear the city from the low-lying areas, you'll have to forcibly acquire a large amount of private property, which is either an expensive (if the law is followed) route, or a suspension of the current law. So suggesting the low lying areas be forcibly cleared is clearly unworkable. And it involves acquiring and demolishing the majority of the CBD. If you think that is even remotely possible then I've got the Story Bridge to sell you.

Everyone who purchases property in Brisbane is well aware of the 1974 floods. I know, because I purchased a property knowing full well it could be flooded one day as it was in 1974. And last week it was. But I'm not about to sell it or have the government confiscate it because it gets flooded once every 40 years.

About the best thing that could happen is something along the lines of a) new developments must have critical infrastructure (electrical circuits etc) about the 100-year flood leve b) flood prone suburbs could have prominent markers, such as bands around power poles to remind people of previous flood heights. There's a popular one in the Breakfast Creek Hotel. c) new housing in flood zones could have a mandate not to use water soluble materials such as plasterboard in lower levels, and could be mandated to have the main living area above flood height. People with older houses often came out with no problems because the old houses were built with floods in mind.

This idea of avoiding flood risk by avoiding waterfront areas is silly. By the same token, all residents should abandon Cairns and Townsville because of the cyclone risk. And cyclones in the north happen far more frequently, and with more devastation than Brisbane floods.

I agree with the sentiment but dams can only do so much. In particular, dams don't absorb water, they move the problem somewhere else. There may be enough unused room outside Brisbane, I don't now the situation, but in any area of sufficient population density that won't be the case, unless you want 10 meter high dams throughout your country side.

In the Netherlands where I live, dams are combined with controlled flooding areas. The dams should hold most of the time, but the system is designed in such a way that once in 20-50 years when there is too much water it can be directed to low value areas like farm fields.

That's logical to an engineer, but it takes serious political courage to build a dam in the middle of an area where there is no water to account for a once in 50 year event, and even more courage to declare one side of that dam as "lower value". It makes economic sense though, 10 meter high dams are very expensive (and ugly), more expensive than rebuilding a few houses every generation.

There's plenty of space in the Brisbane river valley for more Dams. One was planned about 15 years back, the land was purchased and it was ready to go. One political group campaigned on having it scrapped so the land was sold off.

The largest Dam servicing Brisbane has a total capacity of 220% - that being 100% is the 'normal' water storage level, the rest is for flood mitigation. So the Dam can temporarily hold more than double its usual capacity. Elsewhere in this topic you'll see people discussing whether that flood mitigation capacity was used correctly, and only time and investigation will tell. I would assume any new Dams planned would also incorporate a flood mitigation feature, particularly after this last flood.

The population density outside of Brisbane drops very low, very quickly. It's nothing like the Netherlands. Australia has one of the lowest population densities in the world, whereas I think the Netherlands has one of the highest.

Brisbane has been in its present location since 1825. If the "green" answer to "how can we stop floods in Brisbane" is "well you shouldn't have built a city there in the first place, so nyer" then I don't think that's the kind of attitude that's going to do wonders for the cause of environmentalism.

Seriously though, to the extent that there's fingers to be pointed they should be pointed at the folks in charge of the Wivenhoe Dam. But hey, I'm not a dam engineer, so maybe we really do need a second dam.

tokyo has a big ass green belt around it's river http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=35.738057,139.824747&...

edit: for a positive comparison checkout south bank http://www.nearmap.com/?ll=-27.478211,153.023704&z=18...

edit2: another example of green belts along rivers is Curitiba in southern Brasil see: http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=-25.45894,-49.191552&... and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curitiba#Hydrography_and_Pluvio...

Well, the riverside of Brisbane is mostly private property, including the CBD. Unless you're going to forcibly confiscate private property, people are not going to leave of their own accord - and even if they do, others will be happy to move in behind them. So it's a choice of leaving things where they are, or suspending democracy, private property and freedom of choice and doing a dictatorial thing like clearing all the houses and buildings along the river and creating a park. Even if you did it under existing laws, the amount of money required to resume all the properties would be immense. Everyone of those riverfront homes is worth at least a million dollars. The buyout and demolition would far outweigh any reconstruction costs.

These people know they live in a flood zone. There are flood markers all over the place and every property purchase inclues a 1974 flood report as to the level of flooding in the particular property. People choose to live in these place of their own free will in the full knowledge the river might one day come and flood them.

So a wide green belt along the river might be a good idea. But it's also completely impractical and only good as a theoretical talking point.

Serious question. I don't have a horse in this race, and I don't know the specifics of the Australian system, but:

"These people know they live in a flood zone. [...] People choose to live in these place of their own free will in the full knowledge the river might one day come and flood them."

Doesn't this end up being the usual privatize the profit, socialize the risk scheme? People enjoy their property on flood-free years (which I understand to be most of them). In a flood, the society sticks together, volunteers, the government steps in and helps out the flooded areas. People who live above the flood level, who might have chosen to do so consciously because of the flood level, get little reward for their risk avoidance.

I don't mean to sound heartless and I am sure it is horrible to have your house under water -- but isn't this an issue at the end of the day? Is there a factor I am not aware of? Is there an overall shortage of suitable, natural-disaster-proof land? Do you get flood insurance and pay back for the help received?

I did answer this before but the internet appears to eaten the comment. I'll be more brief this time.

>Doesn't this end up being the usual privatize the profit, socialize the risk scheme?

In short, there's very few locations which don't have advantages of a greater public pool of funds to assist in disaster.

You might say this but I'll counter by saying that all residents of San Francisco are privatising the benefits of living in such a nice city, while greater California and the USA are socialising their risk of living in an earthquake prone area. The same goes for tornado country, or most of florida with Hurricanes, or wherever, really.

So while you can probably argue the technical merits of such a statement it quickly can be applied to just about anyone, anywhere, and starts to look absurd.

I would object if people living in flood zones were automatically provided with government funds to rebuild. While the government might donate money to the general cause of rebuilding (much of which goes to hardship funding) they don't directly underwrite private property. So the person with the most risk is the one living next to the river. As long as they don't expect or are promised help, then you're not socialising the risk. If people volunteer help after the fact, that's a different thing.

> Even if you did it under existing laws, the amount of money required to resume all the properties would be immense.

IANAL, but as I recall, the guarantee that forced acquisition occur on just terms only binds the Commonwealth, not the states. Queensland may not have just-terms laws, and even if they do, Parliament would be able to suspend them.

IANAL either, but anything that happens with regards to forced property acquisitions also means the person with the confiscated property has to be compensated fairly at full market value for said property. And the cost of acquiring all the riverfront property along the Brisbane and Bremer Rivers would be astronomical.

So they only way to resume the properties and provide a benign area for flooding is to either (a) borrow or tax a lot of money for the acquisition or (b) suspend the laws and steal the properties from their owners by means of modified legislation or other force.

I'm not saying that forced property acquisition should never occur, clearly there needs to be cases where this happens ('The Castle' notwithstanding). But to forcefully acquire all the property along the Brisbane river? Another flood mitigation Dam would be a lot cheaper and keep a lot more people happy, and provide more water for droughts. Queensland is still woefully under-equipped for long dry periods. Wivenhoe was designed to mitigate flood waters and guarantee supply until 2000. SEQ needs another large dam.

> IANAL either, but anything that happens with regards to forced property acquisitions also means the person with the confiscated property has to be compensated fairly at full market value for said property.

What you say is true of acquisitions made by the Commonwealth. The Federal Constitution makes that explicit guarantee (Section 51(xxxi)) -- incidentally the High Court have taken the view that "just terms" does not necessarily mean "at market rates". My parents got diddly poop for land compulsorily acquired by the Whitlam Government near Darwin.

But the states are not bound by that guarantee and each State Constitution may or may not have requirements for just terms acquisition by the states. Moreover, State constitutions are generally amendable by State Parliaments without requiring a referendum, making them much less robust to policy pressure than the Federal Constitution.

If it so happens to be that Queensland's "just terms" rules are in an amendable constitution or are an Act of Parliament, then there would be no legal barrier to the Parliament removing or drastically reducing compensation for compulsory acquisition of land.

However I suspect land along the Brisbane river will not be acquired because of the politically poisonous nature of compulsory acquisitions generally.

There's also epic flood control stuff on the river north of Tokyo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_Area_Outer_Undergr...

i'm constantly floored by the scale and quality of infrastructure in japan, and not just tokyo even out woop woop they have rail, road, water and telco infrastructure that makes our efforts look feeble.

amazing shit you can do when you run public debt at close to 100% of GDP :)

Japanese public debt is actually at ~200% of GDP. Australia is not seen as a particularly safe bond issuer, we could not sustain that level of debt.

And when you have population density. It makes economic sense to provide better services when you have x number of people per m^2 as compared to the Australian density.

I'm a big believer that Australian cities should be bearing this in mind and building up rather than out.

Except for Bob Brown. Who is now widely perceived as being a heartless loony.

(For O/S readers, the leader of the Greens party claimed that "The Coal Industry should have to pay for the cleanup as it was caused by climate change, which is their fault" (Paraphrased). This is not only unproven, it's also a cop-out... PEOPLE used that coal Bob, they're to blame as well if we believe your causality logic. It's a good thing there were no floods before this year, and certainly none in the 19th century to disprove your theory that natural disasters only happen to naughty planets whose inhabitants mine coal)

privatise the profit, socialise the costs.

Serious question now : do you really believe/agree with what Bob Brown is saying? Or are you going along with the support just because you support his political party? He has no facts or even scientific support for his statement. To state that the Australian coal industry has somehow caused major flooding is to indulge in bald-faced lying of the type that only agenda-driven politicians can manage. The one data point of worse flooding in 1893 before the coal industry even existed is case closed for most rational people. Not even the most activist climate scientist is prepared to definitively link the floods to warming temperature, let along the percentage of warming attributed to co2 emissions, let alone the 1% of global co2 emissions that Australia accounts for. About the best you'll get is 'global warming may have contributed to the flooding'. And that's hardly a smoking gun of the type Brown is fantasizing about.

If I was a supporter of Bob Brown I would be embarassed by this particular outburst.

I wouldn't be. Bob Brown has form on this sort of thing. He blamed the ACT and Victoria bushfires on global warming also. Basically his major supporters at this point must be the forgetful and the shameless.

Here's my question on climate change: it is by now widely accepted that climate change is responsible both for droughts and for flooding rains. That is, climate change can give us more rain at some times and less rain at others.

I'm willing to accept that. But then how do we know that it wasn't acting to give us less rain on this particular occasion? How do we know that climate change didn't save us from an even worse flood?

Well, anthropogenic (as in human caused, via greenhouse gas emissions) global warming is a scientific theory.

A scientific theory has to have a hypothesis (human caused emissions of gases cause the globe to warm in a significant way) and a null hypothesis (human caused emissiosn of gases do not cause the globe to warm in a significant way). No arguments there, that's not controversial.

However, for a theory to be scientific, they have to be falsifiable. That is, there has to be a way of proving them false. But nowadays Anthropogenic Global Warming, now packaged into the catch-all Climate Change, and has been linked with these following items: more droughts, more rain, less snow, more snow, higher temperatures and lower temperatures. As every single type of weather pattern or climate outcome is now predicted by the theory, and as such it cannot be falsified. It's not a scientific theory anymore in that case. It's morphed from a scientific theory (more GHG makes the global temperature go up) into a belief system (any type of human-caused emissions causes bad weather somewhere). It's commonplace for media and activists to now link any weather outside of normal benign conditions with 'climate change'.

Normal or pleasant weather (such as pleasant summers or mild winters) are never linked with climate change - only adverse weather.

Hence Bob Brown has linked both heatwaves and bushfires and cool temperatures and flooding with climate change. Because every type of weather related event now proves the theory, there are none that disprove it.

The current weather conditions in Australia are well within historic recorded variability, and Australia's climate record is pretty short. Climate change is meant to have started either in 1850 or 1940, depending on who you listen to. But in many cases, more extreme weather was recorded prior to these dates than is found now.

But climate change has stopped being a scientific theory and now is a politicised quasi religion for some. That's a shame because researching and undestanding the climate is very important for the resource dependent world we live in. But research cannot go forwards when it is viewed through the prism of a bad theory, in the same way the luminifurous ether had to be discarded to understand light.

And for anyone who doesn't agree with me, I ask this question : what would it take for you to believe the theory has been falsified?

That's a counterfactual, which most scientists and economists won't bother to address, because there's just no way to know.

This is becoming ripe for parody.

Liberals regain power? "Global Warming".

Ice-cream melts when it's left on the counter? "Global Warming".

Bob Brown is asked to step down as leader of the Greens? "Global Warming".

Effects can have more than one cause, my friend.

Bush of course, duh. It's a well-known fact that he did Brisbane because he hates Aussies.

At the moment people seem to be more interested in helping out their mates and getting the place cleaned up. I'm sure the questions will be asked soon. It's been good to see the volunteering and general good will surrounding this event, any politicians who have tried to make political statements in relation to the crisis have been widely condemned.

After the 74 floods, we built a dam (Wivanhoe) to prevent it from happening again, and yet we came not far from the 74 levels - amazing to think what would have happened without that dam!

Australia was suffering severe drought for many years until 2010. There was always fear of brush fire getting out of control (similar to California's wild fires) and there were water restrictions in many cities. After persistent conditions like that, flooding was unthinkable.

Not really - El Nino cycles followed by La Nina mean that drought followed by flood is a common theme along the East coast of Australia. One of the more patriotic pieces of poetry in Australia (My Country, Dorothea Mackellar) even refers the "droughts and flooding rains".

Australians also always have bushfire risk - it is just part and parcel of the native vegetation, and fire mitigation techniques only go so far (see the bad Canberra fires of 2003 or the disastrous Victorian fires in 2009).

Ex-PM assisting with flood clean-up. Compare with Bush response.


It's worth noting that Kevin Rudd lives in Brisbane. And he ended up in hospital after wading through the waters with cuts on his feet.

It should also be noted he took the time to alert the media he was about to go and help people move out of houses. I'm not making this up - some of the media have reported his office alerting them.

In reality the PM who deposed him was in town, and I think he felt compelled to get some air-time to compete, seeing as he was the local boy and all. No love lost between those two.

That's one way of looking at it.

On the other hand, the way people behave in crisis situations is largely dependent upon the way they see prominent people behaving. If prominent people are out there volunteering and helping out their neighbours then it makes it more likely that other folks will too. Mr Rudd is probably the most prominent Brisbanite at the moment (possible exceptions of the Premier and the Lord Mayor who were busy with their actual duties) so by helping out his neighbours (with cameras present) he can do a lot to set the tone for the behaviour of Brisbanites during and after the disaster (which I must say has been pretty much exemplary).

I'd never vote for Kevin Rudd, but I'm perfectly prepared to give him due credit for doing the right thing. (Unless of course it turns out that he only helped out for five minutes and stopped as soon as the cameras left).

I'm just taking a poke at Rudd, I do agree with you it's important to set the tone of the event by having well known politicians, business leaders, sportsmen and others pitching in and lending a hand.

I'm far more impressed with Rudd getting his hands dirty than others hiding in Canberra trying to score points by press release.

I think your poke at Rudd was somewhat justified, since we all know Rudd as a media whore. :-) But yeah, nice to see the politicos getting dirty, and I think it's pretty clear even from press conferences that there is sincerity involved on all sides.

As an ex-pat aussie looking at this from abroad, at appears as if various levels of Australian government are pulling together and focusing on clean-up. In many other places, things descend into blame and confusion pretty quickly, which is what happened in the US. I'm sure Bush did care what was happening on the ground, but the confused response between the different levels of government was astounding (and surely wasn't the feds fault alone).

For all the internal complaining about who is running the show in oz at various times, the country has a healthy and functional democracy in many ways. And Queenslanders will pull through.. the state is full of tough buggers. Best wishes to all affected back home.

I'm sure Bush did care what was happening on the ground, but the confused response between the different levels of government was astounding (and surely wasn't the feds fault alone).

In fairness Katrina was a much more difficult disaster to deal with than the flood. The flood required small-scale evacuations, while Katrina required the evacuation of an entire city. There's always going to be chaos when you try to evacuate an entire metropolitan area within 48 hours... the manpower and infrastructure to do that kind of thing just doesn't exist.

And that's before you consider that there was a storm as well as a flood.

From memory (and I could be very wrong here) Bush's response to Katrina was to not address it for a few days - exactly the wrong thing to do. http://blogcritics.org/politics/article/was-bush-slow-to-res... says it was four days before action started to happen, and I recall at the time there was a lot of anger directed against the inactivity of the feds.

Compare to Bligh in QLD, who was doing two-hourly media stops packed with information, keeping people abreast of what was going on. The second day of the recovery they realised that they had so much volunteerism that they had to tap it - and there's aerial footage of volunteer centers with queues literally over a kilometer long. Compare to Katrina when the feds had no idea what was going on and where they also copped flak - rightly or wrongly - for not letting volunteers help in a timely manner

Even on the information front alone, if people know what's going on, they feel in control of the situation as the 'what ifs' are minimised. QLD flood victims felt acknowledged, Katrina victims felt abandoned.

Katrina was indeed much worse than the QLD floods, but that doesn't absolve a politician of having to provide good leadership.

I think that's a good point. The scale of the gulf weather events on urban populations (also thinking of Rita and the Houston evacuation) is just astounding.

I guess all reminders of our planet's volatility no matter where we choose to settle.

It should also be noted he got this cut from helping people in his electorate move furniture out of their houses.

This is no where near the disaster that Katrina was

This was done by @jimwhimpey. His (brief) write up: http://log.valhallaisland.com/post/2785174890

I really don't like that slide effect. A simple mouseover would have sufficed.

I'm on an iPad and can't find any way to view the flood images. And it would probably have taken only one line of code to enable it to work on all touchscreen devices by adding an on click event.

Revealing the flood image from left to right probably would've worked better, too.

I dunno, it's kinda intuitive when you have it halfway across that the left side should be "before" and the right side should be "after".

My first reaction was "is this because they drive on the left?"

No, LCD screens work upside-down here, just like our drains are the "wrong" direction.

(Tip for the sarcasm impaired: that's a bad joke.)

The "Rocklea (wide view)" one is particularly striking.

It was strange driving down the road, looking down a side street, and seeing houses underwater.

are there crocodiles in the water?

Further north there were reports of crocodiles swimming into people's homes. But not in Brisbane.

Well, that is a scarier result of a flood than the flood itself. I hope nobody gets attacked by them.

Not in Brisbane, but one of the other flooded towns: http://img560.imageshack.us/img560/979/168030177790121739415...

It's all fake. However that went on national TV and we all had a good laugh. We never saw that presenter girl again, after she insisted that was shot in Brisbane.

What do you mean it's fake? Is the croc photoshopped in, or is it a big rubber crocodile?

If it's photoshopped it's pretty convincing, and if it's a big rubber crocodile then... who has a big rubber crocodile anyway?

it's taken from way up north. Where there are actual crocs :)

No crocs in Brisbane. Every year is the same claims "I saw a croc!"

I did say 'not in Brisbane'

Holy shit. Not a small one either.

No, only bull sharks.

Luckily the floods washed away some of the drop bears, so the city is actually safer than it was before.

My sister manages mosquito control in Victoria. She says the post-flood mosquito management in QLD is going to be quite a challenge. However, she also claims that mosquito management is going to be nowhere near as big of a project as the upcoming bunyip control efforts.

My knowledge of Australian folklore improved after looking up "bunyip" on wikipedia. Thanks. ;)

yeah mozzies are a bigger risk to health than snakes or sharks.

A brown snake in the water will climb in a house to take refuge, not to attack. they're just trying to get out of the water, just like cockroaches piling up on traffic lights.

All of the snakes alive must be on the trees or in the houses by now.

I thought i saw a snake while i was cleaning out houses on haig rd. in milton, but it turned out to be a very confused fish!

Hey I was there. Fantastic work mate. Good on you.

In some places there could be, further North. Probably not in Brisbane. Snakes might be more of an issue.

Though snakes that live (or just hang out) in water are not dangerous, the really bad snakes are the ones that live in deserts. (I think I learned this from NatGeo)

I'm not sure that you should rely on that as a rule.

Some sea snakes (at least in Australia) are venomous. Also, snakes (including venomous ones that might normally live out of the water) can swim and in flooded regions would be forced to do just that. The red bellied black snake isn't as dangerous as the inland taipan or eastern brown, but it does like water.

Fundamentally not true.

Some of the most dangerous snakes in Australia always live in and near watercourses, and are usually disturbed while sunning themselves near a river when someone decides to go for a swim. The types of snakes found swimming around in the Queensland floods are not the types you want to be messing with.

Try this one on for size : http://www.snakecatchers.com.au/Red_Bellied_Black_Snake.html

I saw a 3m one of these about a week ago sunning itself next to the river near my house. And I don't live in the bush.

lessons from floods, reinforced for the 9,753rd time:

1. __have home on high ground__

2. see 1

3. see 1

all else is bullshit and/or out of your control (eg. level of flooding, degree of local or government competence/planning/assistance, etc.)

Make that "rock high ground" unless you want to find yourself on one end of a landslide (and then on the other).

For those in the US wanting to follow this advice, FEMA has an online map showing flood hazard zones at http://msc.fema.gov/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/info?storeId=1...

that would be brilliant and uesful advice if we had a time machine...

Someone probably said that in 74 as well

The stunning imagery aside, these are satellite images, not aerial.

What makes you say that? The text states that they're aerial photographs taken in flyovers, and they certainly look more aerial than satellite to me (they'd be very high resolution if they were satellite).

Actually, the photos are taken from a plane.


Well I was fooled. It's hard to tell these days.

The government should have built the damn dam

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