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Brisbane, Australia
I'm an Australian author of Contemporary Romance, Romantic Action/Adventure, and Historical fiction. I live in Brisbane, Australia. Visit my website at www.noelleclark.net

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Toowoomba

Four months ago, to the day, the beautiful city of Toowoomba was devastated when a so-called inland tsunami – a massive wall of extremely fast moving water, swept all in its path and inundated the Central Business District.

Toowoomba, which has a population of 90,000 people, and which sits majestically high on the edge of the Great Dividing Range about 700 metres, or 2300 feet above sea level, is about 120 kilometers inland from Brisbane.

People scratch their heads, wondering how on earth such a flash flood could occur so far inland, and so high up on a sharp precipice which is only reachable by a very steep, winding road from the plains of the Lockyer Valley below.

Yesterday, whilst looking out of my 4th floor hotel window in Ruthven Street, Toowoomba’s main street, I could see why. All around me, just out of the CBD, is a ring of hills. Toowoomba, apparently, is situated in an ancient volcanic crater. And the Central Business District of this thriving, bustling city, is smack in the middle.

Several creeks meander through Toowoomba – Gowrie Creek, East Creek, West Creek – and they all lead to a very obvious depression in the landscape. This depression is filled with beautiful parkland, and car parks for the many businesses.

On 10th January 2011, the rainfall was so heavy. The weeks preceding had also had heavy rains. The ground was saturated. The rain that day just bucketed down. It was too much for the normally little creeks. They burst their banks and inundated the city streets, businesses, homes.

Furniture from a major furniture store was floating down streets that were now a 2 metre deep muddy brown, raging and deadly torrent. Within seconds, the city centre was effectively split in two by the swollen and raging creeks that were sweeping cars and four-wheel-drives before it at an amazingly fast speed.

The video footage of this horrendous event was shown on all the TV news shows. Who could ever forget seeing the family of three sitting atop their small hatchback as it hurtled at a great pace down the main street, rocking and bucking, desperately waiting to be rescued. The footage was replayed over and over. People clinging to trees as vans and cars standing on their ends swept past them at who knows what speed. Hands reaching out to hands, people being plucked to safety. And the inevitability of hands slipping away, never to be seen again.



The main western train line that runs into Toowoomba from Brisbane, and then out the other side to service all the towns of the Queensland outback, was cut off because of the track footings being washed out from under the rails, and because of cars that had been smashed hard up against the rail until their brand and make were unrecognisable.

Of course, as we know, this devastating flash flood, or inland tsunami as it was called, was not the end of the road for this massive, angry, rushing wall of water that was hell bent on wrecking lives and homes, of wiping out towns that got in its way, and of eventually contributing to the flooding of the third largest city in Australia, Brisbane. So many lives lost

As I travelled up the Warrego Highway from Brisbane towards Toowoomba, I passed through all the towns and crossed all the waterways that, back in January, had me transfixed to the television. The news broadcasts showed places I knew so well, suddenly non-existent.

I passed through the black fertile plains of the Lockyer Valley whose crops, farms, homes had all been destroyed. Once I got to Helidon, another town that lost many of its homes, and saw the turnoff to Ground Zero – the little township of Grantham – I was surprisingly reminded of a drive I did through the north-west of France and through Belgium, passing town after town with names such as Ardennes, Amiens, Villers-Bretonneux, Ypres.

I remember wondering, as I was driving along the highways of that faraway land, at the marvellous resilience of humankind. To rise from the worst, to rebuild, and to once again live peacefully, even after enduring such horror and losing so many loved ones.

Between Helidon and the foot of the range, is the little town of Withcott, until now famous for the fact that there was always a copper sitting just inside the 60 kph zone as you passed through, waiting to zap you. Everybody, absolutely everybody, makes sure they reduce their speed to 60 kph as they enter Withcott. Well, now Withcott is famous for being one of the towns that was hit with the raging wall of water that spilled mysteriously over the lip of the Great Dividing Range at Toowoomba, and flew down the mountain, wiping out little hamlets such as Postman’s Ridge and Murphy’s Creek. It also tried to wipe out Withcott. As I was crawling through the town – the main highway is the one and only main street of this little farming town – I could see wrecked buildings, all unrecognisable except for a wrecked petrol station which was no longer open for business.

I climbed the range. A lovely dual carriageway of black that winds very steeply to the top that always has large semi-trailers crawling up at snail pace in the left lane, and cars cautiously making their way past them in the right lane, this piece of highway is famous for the fact that the large semi’s often cannot make it to the bottom of the range without losing their brakes and flying over the side of the cliff and into the gullies below. It is also famous for its bellbirds. I remember as a child, we would climb the range in our very old, burnt out VW Kombi Van that barely made it up, and would go so slow that we could easily hear the beautiful call of the bellbirds, our windows wound right down, letting in the glorious sound. But this day, it was also famous for being the carriageway that carried some of the massive wall of water that flew down and through Withcott, then kept going, flattening all that stood in its path, particularly the town of Grantham.

For anyone who has ever climbed the Toowoomba Range, as it is called, you will know the sense of surprise when, all of a sudden, you pop out of the steep climb and into the verdant green, beautiful city of Toowoomba, the Garden City. This part of the trip never fails to make me happy.

As I stand at the window of my hotel room, I see the volcanic crater rim, I look down into the streets that were shown on television, and I shake my head with a total lack of comprehension at the fearful might of Mother Nature. Mother Nature - one minute so generous, the next meting out punishment to innocent people with rage and fury so violent, so unstoppable, that one wonders why.

I doubt anyone will forget that day. To the memory of those who died in the terrible tragedy that hit this beautiful city on 10th January, may you all rest in peace, and may your families eventually find comfort. To those who risked their own lives saving others, thank you.


ABC news footage of the minutes when the inland tsunami hit: http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2011/01/10/3109884.htm

These photos courtesy http://www.couriermail.com.au/

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