Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley Flash floods

10 January 2011

Newspaper and online articles, radio documentaries and book.

Listed in date order

Breaking news

TOOWOOMBA has been inundated with flood water following a freak storm that smashed roads and swept away cars.


Toowoomba Floods  Online audio slideshow. The Australian. January 11, 2011.

See  the slideshow . . .

Eight dead, 70 missing as flash floods strike Queensland

The Australian. January 11, 2011.

UPDATED Jamie Walker

EIGHT people are dead and there are grave fears the toll may rise with at least 70 missing after flash floods swept through southeastern Queensland.

The defence force is helping with the vast search and rescue mission playing out in the Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane, after it was hit by walls of water that earlier tore through Toowoomba.

Premier Anna Bligh said emergency crews were worried about 11 people missing from Murphys Creek.

Read more . . .


Toowoomba torrent no one knew was coming

The Australian. January 11, 2011.

INSIDE STORY: Michael McKenna and Amanda Gearing

IT came without warning and, within minutes, the sea of murky brown water that swept through the main street of Toowoomba was gone.

In its wake was a trail of death and destruction that devastated the picturesque city perched on top of the Darling Downs and stunned a state exhausted and stretched by its worst natural disaster in decades.

For more than a month, Queenslanders have been battling floods. In most cases, the water has been slow-rising, allowing authorities plenty of time to issue detailed warnings to residents and business owners.

But no one came close to predicting the wall of water that swept through Toowoomba just after lunchtime yesterday.

Read more . . .


The seconds that separated life and death

by: INSIDE STORY: Amanda Gearing and Hedley Thomas

From: The Australian

January 12, 2011

WHEN the water in the living room of Steven and Sandra Matthews’s home reached ankle deep on Monday, they began to discuss how to save their furniture.

The couple, who were at their Spring Bluff home with their son Sam, 20, and daughter Victoria, 15, were oblivious to the danger that was surging towards them.

As the water level in their house rapidly rose, they realised the only escape was through the ceiling.

By the time they helped their children through the manhole, the water was up to their necks.

Read more. . .



Take my brother first: heroic final act saves sibling

Amanda Gearing and Natasha Bita

The Australian, January 13, 2011.

A SCHOOLBOY who begged rescuers to save his little brother first is among a dozen people drowned.

Police are continuing to comb cars, trees, creeks and houses for trapped bodies.

Jordan Rice, 13, was sucked to his death with his 43-year-old mother Donna Rice moments after bystanders waded into raging floodwaters to save them.

His 16-year-old brother, Kyle, yesterday told how Jordan had insisted that the good Samaritans first rescue his 10-year-old brother Blake, as the family’s white Mercedes swept along the torrent that tore through Toowoomba’s main street on Monday.

Read more. . .

Phone call was lost as Grantham dad swept away

Jared Owens and Natasha Bita

The Australian. January 14, 2011.

AS a wall of water crashed towards his Grantham home, pensioner Bruce Marshall frantically phoned his daughter Fiona for help.

“He said to her that he can see the water coming towards his house, and that was it — the phone cut out,” Mr Marshall’s son, Allan, recounted yesterday.

“My mother and he were meant to be shopping, but he was a bit stubborn and decided at the last moment he’d rather stay home.

“He was 67 and he had a heart condition and he couldn’t move very easily.”

Read more . . .


Women who cheated death thank their saviours

The Australian. January 17, 2011.

Amanda Gearing

TWO women who survived the Murphys Creek flood have thanked the passers-by who hauedl them from the maelstrom.

Angelika Pohl, 54, and Thelma Hughes, 69, thought they were going to die when their car was swept off a causeway and sank in the flooded creek on Monday.

“Once we were in the creek we wound down the windows and got out on to the side of the roof,” Mrs Pohl said yesterday.

“The car just floated like a boat in the middle of the gully, then it tipped to my side. I let go. I tried to get to the bank, I went under and was trying to get to get air.

“Everything under the water went quiet and I saw colours, it was very calm, very quiet, the panic stopped.”

Read more. . .


Amazing tale of teen’s survival in torrent gives hope to families of the missing

The Australian, January 19, 2011.

Natasha Bita and Amanda Gearing

FLAILING in a maelstrom of muddy water, a teenager being swept along Toowoomba’s shopping strip has become a reason for hope for the loved ones of the 12 people still missing in the devastating Queensland floods.

Police yesterday distributed the teenager’s photograph, showing her fighting for her life in the flash flood that ripped through range-top Toowoomba last Monday, in a bid to work out whether she had survived. Last night, she was found safe and still marvelling that she had survived.

A witness told police the girl had been sitting in a parked car on Dent Street, near the Grand Central Shopping Centre, on Monday when Toowoomba was hit by the massive storm that set off the floods crisis.

She got out of the car and was swept down the street as the flash flood passed through the town. She clung briefly to a power pole before being washed downstream.

Read more . . .


Toowoomba’s ‘miracle girl’ surfaces after being feared drowned

Amanda Gearing and Sarah Elks

The Australian January 20, 2011 12:00AM

MUSICIAN Hannah Reardon-Smith is the woman who came back from the dead after she and her mother were plunged into last week’s catastrophic flash flood in Toowoomba.

Feared to have drowned by those who saw her desperate struggle in the maelstrom, it took a public appeal by police for information for the remarkable story of her survival to emerge.

Ms Reardon-Smith, 23, and her mother, Kathryn, were trapped in their car in west Toowoomba on January 10 when the walls of water smashed through the CBD of the range-top city west of Brisbane.

The car was propelled into a power pole. The shocked women climbed on to its roof but were washed into the raging torrent.

Read more. . .


Child’s body in tree adds to Lockyer Valley death toll

by: Amanda Gearing

The Australian January 24, 2011 12:00AM

TWO more bodies, including a that of child discovered in a tree, were retrieved in the Lockyer Valley at the weekend, reinforcing the grisly complexity of the search for the missing.

A local resident found the child’s body by accident on Saturday in a stretch of Murphys Creek that had been searched twice by police, army and SES teams.

The body was found 1km downstream from where missing six-year-old Katie Schefe was washed away on January 10 by the “inland tsunami” that hit Lockyer Valley communities west of Brisbane. The body of her father, Selwyn Schefe, has already been recovered.

Read more . . .


Stunned survivors say farewell to their families

by: Jared Owens, Amanda Gearing

From: The Australian January 29, 2011 12:00AM

FLANKED by her husband, Matthew, and her two surviving children, Maddison and Jacob, Stacy Keep yesterday began the heart-wrenching task of burying her family.

Ms Keep, who is heavily pregnant, lost three family members when an 8m flash flood crashed through her Grantham home on January 10, including her 23-month-old daughter Jessica, who was ripped from her arms by the maelstrom.

Police are understood to have found a child’s remains, but are waiting for DNA results before confirming the identity.

Ms Keep also lost her mother, Dawn Radke, and her mother-in-law, Pauline Magner, who was farewelled by a crowd of hundreds in Gatton yesterday.

Read more. . .


Warning signs to disaster

by freelance journalist Amanda Gearing | Feb 10, 2011 1:07PM |

As the inquiry into Queensland’s worst ever floods begins in Brisbane today, the families of those killed by the extreme flash flooding in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley are still severely traumatised by their experiences. The $15 million inquiry will examine the disaster, government preparedness and the emergency response.

When investigators move to Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley, where 23 people died and six are still missing, they will hear the most gruelling accounts of how life and death were moments apart. Hundreds of people who have survived came very close to joining the list of dead and missing.

The inquiry will also hear evidence from people who predicted the disaster and are devastated that vulnerable adults and children in the path of the floods were given no effective warning of its deadly force.

“Warning signs to disaster.” February 10, 2011. Read more . . .

Flood inquiry: Grantham victims’ patience wears thin

by freelance journalist Amanda Gearing in Grantham | Apr 28, 2011 11:55AM

Grief and loss are giving way to anger and frustration among flood survivors of the rural towns in the Lockyer Valley as the Queensland Flood Commission hears from senior police, disaster management staff and flood survivors.

For bereaved families in the public gallery waiting for answers to why 22 people died in the catastrophic flash flooding in the Lockyer Valley on January 10, patience is wearing thin.

Residents who were swept away by the flash flood or narrowly escaped by running to the railway line and getting to higher ground with their children and fellow residents are focused on the lack of warning that left them unnecessarily vulnerable.

Read more  . . .


 After the flood

Tony Koch and Amanda Gearing

The Australian July 09, 2011

FRUSTRATED residents of Grantham, the Lockyer Valley township devastated by Queensland’s deadly summer floods, are demanding that the commission of inquiry into the disaster investigate whether an earth wall around a sand quarry helped cause the “inland tsunami” that killed 12 people and destroyed scores of homes.

The quarry, owned and run by prominent Queensland family business Wagners, has operated since 1984 in a horseshoe bend of Lockyer Creek, 2.6km west of Grantham.

Locals, including several who had homes swept away and who fled for their lives or were rescued by helicopter from the raging floodwaters, have told Inquirer expert analysis is needed to establish why Lockyer Creek jumped its bank at the bend in the creek where the quarry is established and raced into the town for the first time in living memory.

Read more . . .


Flood victim’s heartbreak: ‘don’t be complacent about the risk’

by freelance journalist Amanda Gearing | Aug 05, 2011

No one had higher stakes in the findings of the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry than Grantham father Matthew Keep, whose mother, mother-in-law and baby daughter, Jessica, died at Grantham that terrible day in January.

For seven months he has read every statement, submission, running log, disaster management plan and media article available. As he has comforted his grieving wife, Stacy, helped care for his two young children Madison, 5, and Jacob, 4, who amazingly survived the flood, and welcomed a new baby into the family, Matthew has searched for answers for himself and his community.

Why were authorities not able to warn people in seven towns in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley that the worst flash flooding in at least a century was about to strike, killing 22 people? How could such a sudden and catastrophic flood claim three members of his family within minutes?

Read more  . . .

Radio documentary


The day that changed Grantham

ABC Radio National 360 Documentaries

Saturday 15 October 2011

‘Within two minutes it went from being no water out in the street to being waist deep inside the shop.’ When Queensland went under water in January this year the tiny town of Grantham suffered the greatest loss of life: 12 people died. The locals clung to fences, floated on top of cars and supported each other to survive the unexpected and sudden wall of muddy water and debris that inundated their town. You’ll hear tales of fear, bravery and loss in this moving radio feature.

Hear  the program . . .


Qld flood inquest: ‘I could see his arms moving, he was trying to swim’

by Amanda Gearing, a freelance journalist in Brisbane | Nov 01, 2011

Despite the 10 months of grieving for those lost in Queensland’s January floods, new evidence produced during the coronial inquest into the 22 deaths and three disappearances has revealed new shocks for the bereaved families.

Brisbane Coroner’s Court yesterday was introduced to a series of high-tech Google Earth animations backed by funereal music, explaining the scope of the unfolding tragedy, which swept away husbands, wives, children and grandparents in less than three hours on the afternoon of January 10 this year.

The court was also told of the extensive search for human remains, of 131 kilometres of creeks and rivers from Spring Bluff to Brisbane and hundreds of dams that were searched three times by police divers, 250 army personnel and 200 police.

Police are still searching for the three remaining missing people, James Perry, Dawn Radke and Christopher Face.

Read more . . .


Qld floods inquest: stories of courage, sacrifice in emotional replay

by Amanda Gearing, a freelance journalist in Brisbane | Nov 02, 2011

The last acts of courage and sacrifice by parents desperately trying to save their children as a deadly flash flood ripped through south-east Queensland in January fell like repeated emotional hammer-blows on survivors in the public gallery of the Brisbane Coroners Court yesterday.

The speed with which the disaster tore lives and homes apart on January 10 was replicated by the speed at which police summarised the circumstances of the deaths for the coroner. After months of investigation by hundreds of police, the final desperate minutes of 14 people’s lives were summed up for the court before the morning tea break, in as little as three minutes each.

The court was told that none of the triple zero calls from the people in peril in the worst-hit town of Grantham could be responded to, except by helicopter. But 000 operators in some instances advised people to stay indoors to avoid being swept away.

Read more . . .


The Recovery


Survivors of inland tsunami ready to rebuild lives and homes

Amanda Gearing

The Australian January 09, 2012

BESS Fraser knows it is time to move on after the floods that destroyed her home in Grantham and took her family.

A pile of bricks is all that remains of the house she shared with her wheelchair-bound sister Brenda Ross, 56, nephew Joshua, 25, and Brenda’s partner Chris Face, 63 — swept to their deaths by the wall of water that smashed through the Lockyer Valley on January 10 last year.

A year later, with Mr Face one of three people still missing from the valley, Ms Fraser is determined to fight through the grief and depression to build another life. Last week, she received the plans for a house she, along with 80 others, will build on a hill overlooking the town, allocated in an Australian-first council land-swap deal for residents in the flood-prone area of Grantham.

Read more . . .

First Anniversary


One year on: the devastating Queensland floods: Nellie Gitsham

ABC Radio National Breakfast

9 January 2012.

Tomorrow will mark the one year anniversary of the devastating floods that hit Queensland’s Lockyer Valley and Toowoomba and starting today, we’ll begin a series of interviews with survivors of those floods on the 10th of January last year.

In today’s program, Murphy’s Creek resident Nelly Gitsham how she sent her family to safety and then ventured into the flood to try to save her neighbour’s horse, only to find herself needing to be rescued by another neighbour, John Taylor.

Hear  the program  . . .


Queensland floods anniversary: Peter McCarron

ABC Radio National Breakfast. 10 January 2012.

Today marks the one year anniversary of the devastating floods that hit Queensland. This is the second in our series of survival from the Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley floods on the 10th of January 2011.

Today, Queensland Fire and Rescue officer Peter McCarron tells Amanda Gearing about the flood emergency in Toowoomba’s central business district: torrential rain suddenly caused flash flooding of city streets and swept away dozens of people and hundreds of cars.

Hear  the program . . .


One year on and flood victims pick up the pieces

by Amanda Gearing, a freelance journalist in Grantham | Jan 10, 2012

For many Australians, January 10 last year is just a media memory — a vision of cars surfing down inner-city creeks in Toowoomba CBD and houses floating across farm paddocks in the Lockyer Valley. But for the people of the Lockyer Valley who were clinging to life, the terrifying visions of that day remain every time they close their eyes.

Postmans Ridge resident Rod Alford is still haunted by the vision of his elderly neighbour Sylvia Baillie and her brick house being swept away, leaving only a bare concrete slab, which lies even now in the middle of her vacant block. The small rural district suffered the greatest violence of the “inland tsunami” but the area, just north of the main highway between Brisbane and Toowoomba, largely escaped the media limelight.

Media coverage at the time might have seemed intrusive in their grief but the absence of coverage meant they have largely been forgotten as they left to settle in other places or returned to face the clean-up and rebuilding.

Read more . . .


Queensland floods anniversary: Brian Willmett

ABC Radio National Breakfast. 11 January 2012.

In today’s story we hear from Postmans Ridge helicopter pilot, Brian Willmett, and how he and his neighbours worked together to rescue four people, including Kevin and Eileen Lees, from the inland tsunami which swept down the Lockyer Valley during last year’s Queensland floods.

It was a ten metre high wave that swept through Postmans Ridge that day, ripping houses from their foundations and sweeping two people to their deaths. Brian Willmett was at home when he suddenly ran to rescue neighbours who were in danger.

To mark the anniversary of the floods in Queensland, ABC Open has compiled Aftermath, an extensive look at the Queensland floods as well as floods in NSW, Victoria and remote Western Australia, Cyclone Yasi and the 2009 Victorian ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires. Australia certainly has been hit by a few disasters in the past two or so years. The site has a timeline showing content from these six disasters, with links to about 40 people effected by these disasters. If you go to that site you will be able to choose a person to watch videos about them.

Hear  the program  . . .


Queensland floods anniversary: Angela Emmerson

ABC Radio National Breakfast. 12 January 2012.

We’re marking the anniversary of the destructive floods that hit Queensland a year ago this week with our series of interviews from survivors.

Today’s story is from Helidon teenager and university student Angela Emmerson, who tells Amanda Gearing how she and her sister scrambled to the roof to escape the dangerous flash flood which suddenly engulfed their house on the 10th of January last year.

Tomorrow we’ll hear from Grantham resident Rob Wilkin who rescued 31 local people using his car and boat. He helped them escape to safety as 138 houses in the town were destroyed.

Hear  the program . . .


Queensland floods anniversary: Rob Wilkin

ABC Radio National Breakfast. 13 January 2012.

This week, we have been marking the anniversary of the destructive floods that hit Queensland a year ago this week with a series of interviews from survivors.

Today’s story comes from Grantham resident Rob Wilkin who helped save 31 people in the flash flood disaster on the 10th of January last year.

23 people in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley died and 138 houses in the town were destroyed..

Hear the program . . .


Queensland flood inquiry recalled as victims left in limbo

by Amanda Gearing, a freelance journalist based in Toowoomba | Feb 02, 2012

The recalling of the Queensland Flood Commission of Inquiry for another nine days of hearings from today has renewed fears of Grantham residents that the review has not had sufficient time to properly investigate the causes of the 12 deaths in the town on January 10 last year.

Grantham businesswoman Lisa Spierling, who has been liaising with the families of the flood victims, says recalling the inquiry to determine what operational strategy was being used by Wivenhoe Dam managers in the days before Ipswich and Brisbane flooded last year, is more than four times the entire sitting time that was allocated to the Lockyer Valley.

The inquiry heard less than two days of evidence in April last year about the events in the Lockyer Valley, including Grantham.

Read more . . .



The Torrent: Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley, 10 January 2011

University of Queensland Press, January 13, 2012

Of all the stories to emerge from Queensland’s catastrophic summer of 2011, the most dramatic and starkly tragic were those that took place in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley.

On January 10, 2011, after weeks of heavy rain and as floodwaters began to overwhelm much of south-east Queensland, an ‘inland tsunami’ hit the city of Toowoomba, the rural districts of Spring Bluff and Postmans Ridge, and the towns of Murphys Creek, Withcott, Helidon, and Grantham.

The Torrent:Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley, 10 January 2011 tells, for the first time, the extraordinary stories of survival and loss that emerged from that terrible day. Official figures state that twenty-four people died. Many escaped death only because they were rescued by members of the community or through sheer good fortune.

Based on exclusive interviews with survivors, rescuers and with the families and friends of victims of the disaster, The Torrent is a unique and powerful account of human courage in the face of the devastating force of nature, and the enduring resilience of ordinary Australians.

Available here:,%2010%20January%202011


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The Torrent: Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley, January 2011 [Kindle Edition]

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