A collage from the 2011 floods in the Lockyer and Brisbane valley regions.
A collage from the 2011 floods in the Lockyer and Brisbane valley regions.

January 2011, and the floods that changed everything

AS THE man in charge of a large rural area that usually celebrates every precious drop of rain, the catastrophic flood of 2011 was as bizarre a sight as anything Group Officer Dave Wandel can remember.

Mr Wandel was in charge of the Prenzlau Rural Fire Brigade when the floods hit in January of that year, and while he lived only a short distance away, there was so much water being dumped on the ground that road access to work was cut off.

In fact, of the 105 square-kilometre zone that the Prenzlau crews were responsible for, an astonishing 80 per cent was under water.

Much of the Lockyer Creek catchment came to resemble an inland sea, and that was before the infamous "inland tsunami" hit Grantham on January 10, 2011.

 

Rural Fire Service Queensland Prenzlau group officer Dave Wandel reflects on the 2011 floods disaster in the Lockyer and Brisbane valley areas.
Rural Fire Service Queensland Prenzlau group officer Dave Wandel reflects on the 2011 floods disaster in the Lockyer and Brisbane valley areas.

 

"The first thing I remember is that I had to walk to the station that day, because the roads were cut off around my house," Mr Wandel said.

"We opened the station up as an evacuation centre, with two families staying there after their farms went under."

The massive releases of water that authorities were forced to make from a dangerously full Wivenhoe Dam meant this flood was different from others.

Water flowing down the Lockyer Creek was backed up from the junction of the Brisbane River due to the huge volumes roaring down from the dam wall.

READ MORE FROM 2011 COVERAGE: Somerset locals still isolated

WIVENHOE DAM IN 2011: Spill to stop

The damage was far worse and more far-reaching, but couldn't be assessed until the water receded over the following days.

What came next was a massive clean-up effort from the rural crews, with the help of ring-ins from as far away as the Gold Coast.

While he carries many positive memories of the time, the level of damage caused also haunts Mr Wandel.

"I said to my crews, 'Okay, we are going to go in, see what damage has been done, and think about how we are going to help'," he said.

 

Lowood was resembling an inland sea even before the catastrophic
Lowood was resembling an inland sea even before the catastrophic "inland tsunami" hit. This picture was taken from Tarampa, looking west along Brightview Rd. The semi trailer was about the only vehicle capable of crossing the water by this time.

 

Over the next two weeks, armies of rural firefighters and SES methodically picked their way through the rancid muddy mess that was left in the wake of the disaster.

"The first thing that came to mind when I thought back to the floods was this one house we went to which had this big gum tree washed up underneath the stumps," Mr Wandel said.

"There were places that had never seen water that were under. To see what the floods did to those houses was unreal."

The community spirit shone brightly in the Lockyer and Brisbane Valley areas as it did in Ipswich after the floods, and Mr Wandel said crews got a real morale boost out of the positive reactions from residents, even though many of them had lost their homes.

In the Lowood district alone, 50 people were forced to take refuge in the evacuation centres at the high school and the bowls club after the Brisbane River, Lockyer Creek and several connecting creeks and gullies overflowed.

 

Wayne Keller's parents' house in O'Reillys Weir Road in Lowood was hit with such destructive floodwaters that a giant hole was blown in the back of their home. Picture: Rob Williams
Wayne Keller's parents' house in O'Reillys Weir Road in Lowood was hit with such destructive floodwaters that a giant hole was blown in the back of their home. Picture: Rob Williams

 

Patrick Estate was one of the worst-hit areas, along with Clarendon, where police co-ordinated several roof rescues.

Parts of Brightview were also badly hit, however the devastation spread from Fernvale right up to Jimna.

Four hundred and seventy-two homes across the region were inundated.

Communities in Mt Stanley, Linville and Moore were isolated for more than a week and required food drops.

When interviewed by the Queensland Times in January, 2011, Lowood and District Meals on Wheels treasurer Jeff Hewitt said the 2011 floods exceeded the levels of 1974 by just under a metre.

 

Reader Matthew Robson took this image of the main street of Esk under water on January 10, 2011.
Reader Matthew Robson took this image of the main street of Esk under water on January 10, 2011.

 

"Between January 10 and January 12, Lowood had 486mm of rain, and that isn't taking into account all the water coming down the Lockyer Creek and all the water from the dam releases," he said.

So could it all happen again?

Mr Wandel said with talk of La Nina this year, there was no reason to believe it couldn't, and emergency services were always prepared.

As part of the approaching 10-year anniversary of the 2011 floods, the Queensland Times will be telling the stories of the people who were there, living through that ordeal.

If you have a story to tell from the floods, contact editor Andrew Korner at andrew.korner@news.com.au.


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