Tuesday, March 13, 2012

435 The Queensland floods - rooftop rescues by Helicopter crews

The Queensland floods - rooftop rescues by Helicopter crews

(1) Videos & Photo Galleries
(2) Helicopter crews' rooftop rescues from houses engulfed in flood
(3) Heart-stopping rescues - a helicopter pilot's diary
(4) The small town of Grantham, near Toowoomba, a devastated 'war zone'
(5) Small towns: Withcott and Grantham flood "an inland tsunami"
(6) Highset Queenslander houses the best protection against floods
(7) Queenslander style: large verandahs, outdoor living
(8) High-set Queenslander survives flood: "I don't know how our house is still standing"

(1) Videos & Photo Galleries

Bear in mind that some of the houses in these photos are high-set, ie 2.5 to 3m (8-10') off the ground.

The houses that were ripped off their stumps and swept away would mainly have been low-set (50 cm or 2' off the ground).

Video of Toowoomba flood - rooftop rescues by Helicopter crews:

Photos of the Toowoomba flood:

Fatal Wave of water hits Toowoomba:

Photos of the Brisbane flood:

Photos of the earlier (around Xmas-New Year) floods at Theodore, Emerald, Bundaberg and Rockhampton:

(2) Helicopter crews' rooftop rescues from houses engulfed in flood


Kiwi pilot's rooftop rescue as house being swept away

KATIE CHAPMAN - The Dominion Post Last updated 05:00 13/01/2011

Hovering over a house as floodwaters ripped it from its foundations, Wellington pilot Ned Lee kept his helicopter steady while the crew winched two people to safety.

Two Helipro helicopters from New Zealand were called into action on Monday to help with flood rescue efforts.

The helicopters are contracted to fight fires for the NSW Rural Fire Service during summer.

At least 12 people have been killed as the waters sweep towards Brisbane, and that number is expected to rise.

The choppers were manned by Kiwi pilots and winch operators, including Mr Lee, who is Helipro's Wellington base manager.

On Sunday he was helping to fight a fire in Hawera. Early the next morning, he flew to Queensland, where he went straight to work.

During a refuelling break yesterday, he said the helicopters were continuing to work around Gatton, about 30km from Toowoomba, where they had been winching people to safety.

"We winched a couple out of a house that was actually being pushed down the river."

The torrent of water had forced the house from its foundations, and broken through walls, he said.

To effect the rescue, he had to use the house as a reference point, and track its movements along the river as the crew went down to rescue the couple.

In another rescue, they lifted 12 people from the roof of their house.

People were in shock, but the crews had to remain focused on the task at hand, he said. "We're here to do a job, so when we're here the reality of it doesn't really sink in."

But when there was a chance to reflect, the magnitude of the disaster was massive, he said. "It's unbelievable ... just the volume of water coming, it's pushing whole houses off the foundations."==

(3) Heart-stopping rescues - a helicopter pilot's diary


Heart-stopping rescues

16th January 2011
WHEN Andrew Neil began his shift at the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service's special operations unit last Monday, he had no idea of the drama and heartache which lay ahead.

Within hours, the 44-year-old swift water rescue expert was risking his life to save Lockyer Valley residents caught up in the state's worst flooding disaster in 37 years.

Among those who owe the Kawana Waters man their life is a young mother who was trapped alongside her husband and young son on top of their 4WD

Images of them being swept away by the raging torrent captivated and horrified people around the world.

What they didn't see was Mr Neil throwing himself into the "inland tsunami" in a brave attempt to save them.

Yesterday, he told Daily reporter OWEN JACQUES about a day which will be seared into his memory forever. This is his story in his own words:

IT was kind of a bizarre day, really.

My normal station officer is away.

I had this new officer, Brad (Millsy) Mills, it was his first day on that shift.

We were at Special Ops on Monday morning and there was a small incident going on, on the northside that they sent another special ops team to.

Millsy said, "What's going on here? Why aren't we going to this?"

I said, "Don't worry about it mate – they're saving us for the big one."

There is a saying in the service when someone leaves, you say, "See you at the big one".

THE CALL: lunchtime

WE were checking equipment at lunchtime and were told to go to Withcott, towards Toowoomba.

We had no idea what was going on out there.

We switched to Ipswich communications after an hour and you could hear all these incidents starting to happen.

We got to a bridge at Helidon (105km west of Brisbane) and you couldn't cross this bridge – the water was about 1km across and the normal creek was 50 metres wide.

They said there were three people on a car that had been washed off a bridge.

The car is the white four-wheel-drive Subaru that had a father, mother and son clinging to its roof. The image was broadcast worldwide and will remain an enduring and chilling reminder of what Queenslanders have battled.

DIVING INTO A TSUNAMI:3pm Monday, seven hours into shift.

WE couldn't see them and someone pointed, way over the other side

We looked at each other. There's not much we can do from here. What can we do?

So Channel 7 was hovering around and taking footage, so we got in contact with them.

They landed while we got into our wetsuits.

We thought, "Well, we've got a couple of options. We can get downstream and try to intercept the car downstream or they can get a hold of something".

One option I came up with, because of the helicopter training, I told Millsy "Give me three lifejackets and drop me on the car".

We got airborne in the Channel 7 helicopter because this was the photo of the mother, father and son on the white car – this was that incident.

We couldn't see the car anymore. There was no sign of them.


I SPOTTED her in a tree. I spotted the mother in a tree.

There was no sign of either of them (the son or the father who were last seen with her).

Downstream and off to the side an island had formed.

We got the Seven chopper to land us there.

If she let go of where she was, we thought we could get to her if she came past the island.

There was just water rushing past her.

I ended up making my way to her by swimming.

First I swam across to a tree downstream to get into a back eddy.

The volume of water moving in one direction creates streams of water moving in the opposite direction along the sides. Mr Neil swam to that eddy and was pushed upstream of the stranded woman.

I didn't have anything tied to me, just my lifejacket and my PFD (personal flotation device).

The stuff in the water was amazing – fridges, tractor tyres and a brown snake went flying past.

We used this eddy to get to her.

We got up to her and made contact in the trees – by this time the water had started dropping and there was another little island further back.

Millsy came back, swam the eddy and brought a PFD and brought her back to the island

We then waited for a rescue helicopter to come and pick us up.

She was shattered. The woman, Jenny, had lost her husband and her son.

I was trying to reassure her that we had people downstream and that anything was possible.

We flew back to the (Helidon bridge, where the truck was parked) in the helicopter

All that probably took over the space of an hour.

We're back on the bridge and the helicopter is downstream and they actually found the boy clinging to a piece of farm machinery… a wheat harvester or something.

He was 2km downstream of where we found the mother.

There had been no sign of the car when we got airborne.

It wasn't a good feeling. Our options were very, very limited from where we were.

That was the start of the day.

I didn't think I was at risk at all. Obviously there was an element.

We just had to use the skills we're provided with.

You have sort of a contingency plan if you don't make it across to a tree. Part of your training is to protect yourself in that situation if you end up downstream.

You get training on how to read the water.

Years and years growing up in surf lifesaving (at Alexandra Headland) helps in understanding water movement.

Being in big water isn't a big worry but it is when you have the snakes and rats.

We never gave up (on finding the father and son alive). Anything is possible. That was proven as people were found downstream clinging on to trees, machinery.


THE call came through that there was a house floating downstream with people on its roof.

And we're looking at each other thinking "Is that possible?"

We got airborne and there were reports it was heading down towards Helidon.

There were other reports about this seven-metre wall of water.

As it turns out, this was the seven-metre wall of water.

We searched for maybe 15 minutes upstream. Then we were getting low on fuel… the only fuel was in Toowoomba so we did a quick dash there, refuelled. It was tricky flying through that storm.

Mr Neil was "stuck to the window" as they flew above Toowoomba, watching small creeks transformed into murky rapids that spread a kilometre wide and gouged giant swathes from the countryside.

That's when the call came through with an exact location.

The crew told us, "We can't winch with you guys on board so we'll put you down over here in this grass clearing".

When we landed, these people mobbed us –"My husband's missing and my friend has been washed away in a car".

Millsy told them to back up and said, "Hang on we need to know where we are".

They said we were in Grantham.

GRANTHAM: 6.30pm Monday – 10.5 hours after start of shift.

FROM the air, you could see roofs sticking out. It was just massive volumes of water.

There were a couple of helicopters winching nearby and as it got dark, the helicopters disappeared.

Actually, once they dropped the two people off, they said, "Do you want a lift out of here".

I said, "No way, we're here for the night".

That was it, we were in Grantham.

So far, 15 bodies have been retrieved from the small town and scores more have been put on a "missing" list as the township counts the tragedy's toll.

The people who were left were worried about this seven-metre wave and we were trying to reassure them it wasn't going to happen, even though we didn't know ourselves.

We said we needed to set up communications.

Some other guys came up from Brisbane and came across our fire truck (which they had abandoned at Helidon earlier) and thought "something bad has happened".

We were trying to get (Grantham) organised and in the meantime you could see people on roofs yelling out.

The locals were telling us they know there's people up this one street.

We got someone to draw us a mud map of which road ran where – you couldn't make out anything.

You could hear people yelling out a long way in the distance.


WE had our wetsuits and booties, our full swift water equipment on.

Millsy had a handheld radio and I had a Dolphin torch.

We tried to get communications to tell them to send everything they could.

We just said, "This town has been levelled".

We were yelling out to houses that were closer. There was a service station, a house next door, some more on the corner plus the pub.

The water was roaring and there was debris but in the meantime we were searching cars, against roofs and against the railway line.

We were basically on the edge of the railway bridge.

At one stage I thought there was someone, a survivor on the railway bridge.

About halfway up there was movement but it was a pig, just sitting there.

Another time all of a sudden this cow appeared, and went "moo" – all of a sudden there's this cow just washed up.

We're searching vehicles and this is where our work went from swift water rescue into urban search and rescue.

We're trying to gain access over to these houses and there's semi-trailers on their side.

Everything you looked at was just bizarre.

RESCUE BEGINS: Monday 9pm – 13 hours after start of shift.

WE started getting access to the first house.

There was a family of two girls, we got them out and we walked them back through the water.

We got to the pub – there were five people in there.

It copped a real big impact – the people told us about this house next door with three people in it that had just folded in on itself and washed away.

It was just the two of us until about 10pm. Another swift water rescue crew from Ipswich made entry from the other side of town.

Shortly after they arrived, a special emergency response team (SERT) arrived.

They had a 40-tonne front-end loader.

It was a machine with spotlights blaring, pushing things out of the way and they had people in the bucket at the front.

Then we started going to every house that had people in it and got people out.

We got 15 people out of some of the surviving houses and then we just started searching through ones that had been half flattened.

We were starting to get a rough idea of how many hadn't made it.

We got the torch out as we approached a house and Millsy said, "What are these eyes, is it a dog?"

It was a cow on a veranda.

We got to the people inside and they said, "It's not our cow". It had just floated on to the veranda.

Mr Neil points to his young daughter Emmy who has been quietly listening to the interview for about 30 minutes.

Little Emmy was watching all this on TV.

We ended up walking out after everything had been cleared as much as we could with the resources we had.

GATTON BASE: 3am – 19 hours after shift started.

THEY took us back to Gatton. We drove back in our truck.

One of the crews had collected our truck and went to Grantham. It was there at that stage. We don't know how it got there really.

We had a hot shower, got out of the wetsuit. That was nice after 12 hours in the wetsuit.

Mr Neil was back on shift from lunchtime Tuesday and was called to return to Grantham the following night as other "fresh" crews needed the benefit of his experience. Their task was to rescue six people trapped on a roof but it appeared to have been a miscommunication. The crews then helped residents obtain medication and much-needed oxygen cylinders before again returning to Gatton.

(4) The small town of Grantham, near Toowoomba, a devastated 'war zone'


Grantham a devastated 'war zone'

Adam Davies | 13th January 2011
The force of the water swept houses off their foundations.

I was one of the first reporters into the small Lockyer Valley town devastated by floodwaters on Monday.

Flying in from Toowoomba to Grantham, the scale of destruction from the air was unbelievable.

I immediately knew that something unbelievable had occurred in the quiet country centre I had visited numerous times in the course of my work.

The horror that developed before me as I walked into what was once the main street was simply staggering.

Cars, boats, houses, stock and debris were everywhere. I have never visited a war zone, but this is what I imagined it would look like.

The residents not washed away by the "inland tsunami" were wandering around the only street that was accessible.

They were in a daze, shell-shocked.

Their homes had been destroyed; their friends lost.

The town is in mourning.

The scene at "ground zero'' was like a bomb blast.

Bits of people's lives, pictures, clothing and trinkets, lay scattered everywhere. At the railway bridge, there were six cars still in the floodwater.

Emergency personnel were unable to get to those left dead inside the vehicles.

The sight of 13-year-old Evan Richardson, sitting on the railway tracks sobbing as he recalled his best mate being swept away, will haunt me forever.

(5) Small towns: Withcott and Grantham flood "an inland tsunami"


An inland tsunami - like a fury from hell

Graham Lloyd, Environment editor

The Australian January 15, 2011

BY the time the main streets of Toowoomba were transformed into a deadly torrent of brown water soon after midday on Monday, it had been hammering down for hours.

The Garden City, perched 700m above sea level on the Great Dividing Range, about 125km west of Brisbane, had experienced a wet couple of months, with more than 300m of rain in December and another 250mm falling since a dry New Year's Day.

But then what part of Queensland hadn't, with much of the central and southern parts of the state dealing with their worst floods in a generation or more?

This rain, though, was heavier than normal, heavy enough for the weather bureau to warn, just after 11am, of "localised flash flooding". It would prove a terrible understatement. Just after noon, the two creeks running through the centre of Toowoomba - more drains than permanent water courses, say locals - burst their banks, creating a surging city whirlpool that carried off people overwhelmed by waters strong enough to send cars smashing into bridges, tear facades off buildings and knock down brick walls.

Contrary to popular assumption, the downpour in Toowoomba did not flow east down the fertile Lockyer Valley to deliver Brisbane and its satellite city of Ipswich their worst flooding since the 1974 disaster etched deep in Queenslanders' memory.

The water headed west of the Great Dividing Range to recharge the floods that had already swamped the rural Darling Downs townships of Chinchilla and Goondiwindi - just two of dozens of towns and cities from Rockhampton on the central coast south to the NSW border to have weathered weeks of inundation.

At the same time, a rainstorm of equal ferocity on the eastern slopes of the range was falling on to already saturated ground. Water from every gully joined up and multiplied in power as it raced down the escarpment. Quarries filled and burst, sodden hillsides slumped in landslide, rivers formed on railway lines and cascaded down roadways until a wall of death witnesses say was up to 8m high was unleashed upon a string of settlements without warning.

It's estimated that up to 7.5 billion tonnes of water - 15 Sydney Harbours, if that can be imagined - crashed on to southeast Queensland during this week's superstorm. How that water, sucked from the ocean perhaps a week ago, found its way back to the sea - killing up to 30 people and destroying countless lives along the way - is the story of this week's disaster. It will also be the subject of a royal commission almost certain to be called as the state begins the process of rebuilding.

The Lockyer Valley

HIGH in the Lockyer Valley catchment, down the escarpment from Toowoomba, the small centre of Ballard escaped the onslaught that exploded through Spring Bluff, a little further down the valley, like a fury from hell. By 1pm the water raced to Murphys Creek and from there it was unstoppable. It didn't follow river and creek beds, already flowing swiftly after weeks of rain.

It simply overwhelmed water courses, sweeping over paddocks and leaving an indiscriminate swath of destruction.

The waters swamped Withcott, raced through Helidon about 12km down the valley, and dumped a mountain of debris on Grantham, another 9km further on, before spreading over the agricultural plains around Gatton. It would eventually flow on to swamp Ipswich and then join overflow from Wivenhoe Dam into the Brisbane River and ultimately the flood plains of Australia's third-biggest city.

At 12.30pm, 30 minutes after the downpour high on the ridge above, the Matthews family was sheltering from the rain on McCormack Drive, Spring Bluff, unaware of the torrent that was about to blow apart their small cottage with its big, covered veranda, outdoor gym and above-ground swimming pool overlooking a stream that had never been more than a trickling brook.

A wall of water blew away the front and back walls of the cottage, sweeping childhood sweethearts Steven and Sandra Matthews into the torrent and their deaths. The water did not come down the creek line. It surged down a roadway from above. The Matthews's children, Sam, 20, and Victoria, 15, survived by sheltering in the roof cavity. Matthew's apprenticeship with his father saved his life. "We are electricians," Sam says. "Dad and I spent half our lives in roof cavities. I went for higher ground."

He says there had been no bucketing of rain. "If we had time, we would have gone to higher ground but we were trapped before we knew it," he says.

"Our front yard was a river. I am surprised we are still alive."

"There was so much water," Victoria adds. " I couldn't even tell what direction it was coming from."

From Spring Bluff, water rushed east, sweeping all before it and crashing through Murphys Creek, a settlement of 500 people, at about 2pm. The surge of water exploded down the hill, undercutting the roadway and sweeping the landscape. A wash-out near the railway tunnel high on a hill is testament to the fury that descended on the houses below. "One house looks like a claw had gone into the side of it and ripped it out," says Murphys Creek resident Monica Hoddinott. "Another neighbour's house had 1m of water though it, which punched out through the side."

Hoddinott was at home with her daughter Sophie watching in disbelief as the creek filled and raced towards them. She said the pair had only 10 minutes to collect their thoughts and belongings and flee to higher ground. When the water had passed, Hoddinott says, their house had escaped by centimetres. From the air, the path of destruction at Murphys Creek appears indiscriminate. In truth, the surge of water had been so strong it could not be contained within the established river course. As a result, some homes near the river had been left unscathed while others were blown apart.

From Murphys Creek, floodwaters flowed to Postmans Ridge. "The water came 5m deep; it slammed my place and shook my place, and about five minutes later the rest of the water came down the creek and swamped us," says Postmans Ridge resident Rod Alford.

He watched a wall of water higher than the roof smash into the home of his neighbour, Sylvia Baillie, washing her away and removing everything but the concrete slab on which the house had been built. "It hit it so hard the house exploded," he says. "They found her car 750m away. It had been parked on her front lawn. We saw her go. We know she is dead but they have got to find the body to confirm it."

Alford says the amount of damage to the town is extraordinary, houses demolished, others unlivable. "This was a babbling brook surrounded with trees and look at it. I had magical gardens down there, horse stables and yards. It's all gone."

Nearby Withcott was a disaster zone, Lockyer Valley Mayor Steve Jones said in one of the first reports from the frontline.

"Withcott looks like Cyclone Tracy has gone through it," he told The Chronicle in Toowoomba. "If you dropped an atom bomb on it, you couldn't tell the difference."

From Withcott, the floodwaters built speed through the deep rocky riverbank channel at Helidon before crossing the Warrego Highway - the main link between Toowoomba and Brisbane - and slamming into the Grantham rail bridge.

Local welder Kel Wood, who was at the nearby Grantham Hotel with four friends on Monday afternoon, reckons the wide brown wave of water that hit the town was 3m deep and travelling at 60km/h. "We watched a low-set brick house beside the pub absolutely implode with three people inside . . . There is no way in the world any of them survived."

Wood says Armageddon is the closest he can come to describing it. "I've never seen anything like it," he told the ABC, "and I never want to see anything like it again. We thought we were going to die."

He stood on the roof surrounded by carnage. "(We) watched the cars float down the road, watched the houses float down the road, watched just massive amounts of debris going down the road. Well, road, farm . . . it was just a lake."

From his roof, Martin Warburton saw what he thought were people struggling in the water. "I thought they were people swimming," he told News Limited newspapers. "Then I realised they were dead. You saw hands, legs, hair being thrashed about. By the time I got close to the water, I realised they weren't swimming, they were gone."

The bridge became symbolic of the regional destruction.

The tangled mass of cars, trees, wheelie bins, furniture, dead animals and household belongings was sieved from the surging waters at the Grantham railway and was the site selected by police to establish their command post. ...

(6) Highset Queenslander houses the best protection against floods - Peter M., January 16, 2011

Readers in other countries, and in the south of Australia, may never have seen a Queenslander house.

But one day's drive north of Sydney, as you enter the Subtropics, you first come across them - in the Lismore/Ballina area. As you go north into the Tropics, you find them all the way to Cairns and beyond.

They are timber houses set on poles - called "stumps" - which can be "low-set" or "high-set". High-set stumps protrude 2.5 to 3 metres (8-10 feet) above the ground. Originally, these stumps were of durable hardwood timber, but in more recent years concrete is used. The diameter of each stump is about a foot (30 cm).

Metal ant-caps are placed on top of the stumps, to make it easy to detect termite entry.

Air flow underneath the house provides natural cooling in summer; one can also park the car there.

The timber in these houses is eucalypt - Australia's main native timber - commonly called "hardwood". It's many times stronger than softwoods such as Radiata Pine, and so smaller cross-sections are used: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucalyptus

However, when green, it's liable to bow.

It's also much more termite-resistant.

Brazil now grows a lot of eucalypt trees; and I saw them growing in south-west China in 1987.

Stumps, bearers and joists would be of especially strong and durable species, eg Ironbark (3" x 3" for bearers).

Maryborough is a heritage city that's (so far) refused to pull down its Queenslanders & replace them with brick veneer on slab (a trend one does see in Bundaberg, although the floods might cause a rethink).

A highset Queenslander in Maryborough: http://ecoqueenslander.com/wshops.html

(7) Queenslander style: large verandahs, outdoor living
Visit this link to see some photos of charming Queenslanders:


Queenslander (or Old Queenslander) architecture is an architectural style common throughout Queensland, Australia. It is also found in the northern parts of the adjacent state of New South Wales. The style was common from the 1840s through to the 1960s and used mainly for residential construction, although some commercial edifices such as hotels were also built in the similar Victorian Filigree style, found throughout Australia.

Queenslander buildings are identifiable by large verandahs and large double doors which open onto these verandahs. They are typically raised on stumps (often incorrectly referred to as stilts), that were originally timber, but are now frequently replaced by steel or concrete (particularly in older houses). The stumps served two purposes, firstly to elevate the houses for ventilation and secondly to protect them from floodwaters, as well as termites and other pests. Most Queenslanders were built with metal roofs typically of corrugated iron or aluminium design. Queenslanders are always constructed of mostly wood (although some are restored with prefabricated plastic cladding). In the days before air-conditioning, it was designed to increase air-flow throughout the house by way of large doors and windows, which lined up internally. This is so that the air literally passes through the house, rather than entering through one window and stagnating in the room. Roofs are generally made of corrugated tin or iron, and external walls are sided with timber, often painted in mild pastel colours. Raising the house on stumps meant the under floor area could be used for an old form of refrigeration. A net would hang from under the house, away from the sun, drenched in water. Meats and milk could be stored there for short periods of time (up to a day or two) and kept relatively cool. Floors are generally wooden throughout the house, as is the rest of the construction. Windows are often louvred (to allow for air circulation during Queensland's frequent rainstorms), frosted (to diffuse and soften the harsh tropical sunlight), or both. Commercial buildings and houses built by wealthier people often feature elaborate wrought iron ornamentation such as balustrades.

Typically, this design is most suited to the sub-tropical climate of Queensland, an area with average temperatures in the range of 23-27 degrees Celsius (much hotter in warmer parts of summer). ==

Here's a Wikipedia article on Queenslander architecture:

(8) High-set Queenslander survives flood: "I don't know how our house is still standing"


Gatton resident tells of flood shock

From: AAP January 11, 2011 10:47AM

GATTON resident and Rural Fire Brigade member Anthony MacDonald says he thought he was safe from the floods in a high-set Queenslander home.

"The SES said it was going to be a five-foot wall of water and we should evacuate but I thought five foot of water is not very high and not going to get into our house because it is a high-set Queenslander," Mr MacDonald said.

"But it started rising very quickly and I said: 'No, we're going'."

The front stairs to his house were swept away, along with his shed, he told Channel 9.

"It was unbelievable how the water kept coming.

"I don't know how our house is still standing."

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