Thousands of homes have been submerged and at least 14 people have died due to unprecedented floods across New South Wales and south Queensland.
Record breaking rainfall devastated major towns along Australia’s east coast, with Brisbane receiving close to its annual rainfall in the six days from 23 to 28 February.
New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet has described the extreme weather as a “one-in-a-one thousand-year event”, with thousands evacuated from badly-affected areas including Lismore, Brisbane, and its surrounding towns such as Ballina. Around 33 places recorded more than one metre of rain during the period, with Brisbane recording its wettest summer on record.
Residents of the Brisbane river, Peter (59) and Theresa (60) were at home when the water level rose 3.1 metres on the morning of Sunday 27 February due the deluge – just below the 4.46m rise during Queensland’s 2011 floods.
“We’ve got these steps that come up… from down below, and we started watching it coming up each step, counting them,” said Peter.
“When it was about 4 or 5 metres below the house, we said ‘well we better go,’ because we won’t be able to get out. So we moved to a friend’s place and stayed at her place and we were wondering what was happening.”
The water stopped rising approximately two metres below the floor of the main house, although Peter and Theresa said that several other houses on their street were not so lucky.
“The difference between this flood compared to any previous flood is the La Nina weather pattern of the rain,” said Peter. “It was just raining everywhere in Brisbane and around Brisbane, and they’d never seen that before.”
Queensland authorities estimate 15,000 properties were damaged by floods, and almost 40,000 properties were without power on Tuesday morning.
Climate experts say that an increase in the frequency and intensity of deluges like those affecting NSW and QLD correlates with the heating of the earth’s atmosphere.
Dr Blanche Verlie, a researcher at the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney, said that as climate change worsens, communities like those in Lismore and Brisbane will likely face several disasters over a short span of time.
“For a lot of people, [the disaster is] not only that they don’t have the financial resources to do it again, but it adds a lot of emotional trauma and burn-out,” she says.
Theresa says that several neighbours experienced the 2011 floods and helped in the immediate response.
Blanche emphasised that better planning for extreme weather events and emergencies, as well as mental health support for people in the emotional aftermath, will be necessary.
“We talk about people having fire plans a lot in Australia, but we’re increasingly going to need people to have flood plans as well… to normalise them.”
Continued heavy rainfall and floods are predicted in eastern NSW and south-east Queensland for the coming week by the Bureau of Meteorology.