- 12 . 01 . 11
The recent floods have transformed Brisbane. Here I describe the mood on the night of January 12th as we wait for the flood peak to come.
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This is not the Brisbane I know. The floods have been serious and tragic in North Queensland and have monopolised news for much of the last week, but being high and dry, or so we thought, it might as well have been happening in Europe. Even in Camp Hill, it was hard to believe that there really was a problem at all, until we came back into the city this afternoon. Reality bites hard. Making our way back across town, we began to see the so-called human impact of the torrent, whose original meaning has briefly reclaimed prominence in this part of the world from its Internet neologic sibling.
This is a different kind of flood to those in Toowoomba. Whilst they were flash floods, caused by super storms dropping hundreds of millimeters of rain in a matter of hours, this is a more subtle, deceptive approach. Like the T-2000, which walks because it has no need to run, the impending deluge will get here in its own sweet time. The opening of the Wivenhoe floodgates necessitated by its 190% fill, combined with the winter King Tide and a river swollen with weeks of rain ensure the inevitable. A regular Perfect Storm, it is being said. Blue skies over much of Brisbane today belied the fact that tomorrow, water levels will reach their highest points in nearly 40 years, and may go higher. And there is nothing to do but wait for it. Not so much the calm before the storm, but in the eye of it. With the severest weather apparently over, there is only the aftermath to come. This may be the hardest thing to reconcile; that there can be such a delay from the event to the impact.
The supermarkets looked post-apocalyptic yesterday, with scenes typically assumed more appropriate for Soviet Russia, as people queued for bread and other staples. The irony of having to purchase bottled water was lost on no-one, but concerns about the continued functioning of the water treatment plant meant people were leaving nothing to chance. There were no queues today, with the cupboards already bare, but for some canned goods, and a single solitary pineapple.
With valuables safely stowed and sandbags in place, people stepped out, curious and keen to survey the newly-aquatic scenery. Brisbane is a river city, not a beach city, and it is to here that people are drawn. Amazement as ferry terminals and river restaurants slip their moorings and are deliberately sunk, to prevent them turning into tremendous torpedos.
Wandering around near Milton station, people appeared dazed and confused, with the same shocked expression resonating on every face as the scale of the sprawl became apparent. Unlike Atlantis, which conjures visions of grandeur, we are instead treated to the mundane made novel. Submerged street signs, an inundated McDonalds and debris floating lazily down new rivers contribute to the disbelief. The commonplace becoming surreal, as water is juxtaposed with traffic lights and KFC. No glorious Venice this, no grand cathedrals or Bridge of Sighs, though many sighed as all but one of the bridges closed.
No fear though, not here. Unlike our colleagues in the North, we at least have had the warning and time to make preparations. Excitement is the wrong word. That is too glib for the tragedy that has ruined and will ruin so much. Anticipation perhaps. A sense in the air. Not quite foreboding, but the biding of time. Deserted city streets, as people heed the warning to leave their cars at home. No public transport, no hum of industry. Quiet and somewhat menacing.
An hour ago, the rains returned briefly. The power is out in much of the town. There is the smell of salt in the air. And the water continues its inexorable ascent.