Flooding in Roma

The area of Roma I’m living in is doing a passable imitation of Venice at the moment. At 5pm yesterday evening the normally trickling Bungil Creek peaked at 7 meters. It was enough to burst the banks and flood over the two bridges near my house. The roads around me became rivers and the gardens turned into swimming pools. So far, it is hasn’t been high enough to get into the houses but the Bureau of Meteorology is saying we are not finished with the rain.

The speed was a shock to me though the warning signs had been growing all week. We’ve had several decent falls during the week and the creek had been steadily getting higher. The cyclepath along the creek has been impassable since Monday but I wasn’t expecting the water to get to the road level.

There was another huge downpour late on Thursday night and it was starting to wreak havoc Friday morning. I got up to go to work and had to cross the creek to get to Roma’s town centre. The waters had burst the banks and the bridge was under water. That was what the sign said ‘road under water’ not ‘road closed’. I wasn’t keen to drive across in my 2WD car until I saw someone else do it safely. I cagily followed the car across the bridge without incident.

When I got to the office, it was clear the town had suffered storm water drain damage during the night. The waters had gone down but left the pavements caked with mud and very slippery. In the height of the downpour, some of the drains started to overflow and spilled water onto the lower side of the street. It was the second time this week that had happened. I parked on the higher side in case it should happen again.

In the office news came through from the SES they were expecting the floods to be bigger than 1997’s version. I knew immediately it was going to be a big day. A few weeks ago I’d done a retrospective in the paper about Roma floods of the past and the 1997 pics were impressive. As were the ones from the several flood events of the 1980s. Much of inland Australia is on a floodplain and Roma is no different. It has been flooded often enough that it caused a 19th century move of the town centre away from the creek.

I figured I would be taking lots of photos today so I drove home for a change of clothes. The bridge over the creek was now closed but there was a back way via a second higher bridge. I got past a couple of places where the road was “under water” but it was just safe enough to get through. When I got home, the waters were approaching the gate and my landlady was moving everything upstairs that needed to be kept dry. I grabbed a t-shirt, pair of shorts and thongs (footwear, in case anyone is wondering) and headed back to town the way I came.

On Bungil St just south of where I lived the creek had also flooded the road. There was no other passable road in for those who lived on this street east of the creek. There was one other way in on foot via the Big Rig and I decided to check that out. The Big Rig celebrates Roma’s oil heritage and there is a kiddie train that goes over a footbridge on the creek. The waters had not risen that high and I crossed the footbridge to get to the east side of Bungil Road. I also had to cross the waterlogged sports grounds but it was easy enough barefoot.

The locals looked happy and unfazed by the rising waters getting into their gardens. One owner admitted he did not have flood insurance but the atmosphere was almost party-like as they admired the novelty of the rising waters. Only once was my own equanimity challenged when some kid casually asked me (perhaps hoping for a reaction) “had I seen a snake?” I said I hadn’t and he told me he’d only seen a baby one. I guess the waters would be flushing them out a bit.

There was an SES boat on hand to ferry people back to the “mainland” west of the creek but that was only being used by a few people to get to the shops or pick up kids from school. No-one was evacuating just yet. One guy in his 80s was glued to his radio and swore loudly at the council who “couldn’t effin well tell him when the waters would peak”.

In this little field trip I had a camera but left the note pad in the car. I waded back to the footbridge (now extremely wary for snakes) and decided to go back to the office to download the photos. But before that I decided to check out the creek crossing on the main Brisbane road into town. Here the waters were flowing rapidly but just below the bridge so traffic wasn’t affected. While taking photos from the bridge, another 80 year old man joined me. I’d met him before and he sat down on the barrier next to me and chatted about floods past.

He had a cane which he twirled around to add dramatic effect to his stories. I was worried because the shoulder on the bridge was narrow and I thought he would wave it into oncoming traffic which he had his back turned to. This was particularly dangerous whenever the occasional massive road train would shudder past us at 70kph barely a metre away. When I warned him of the impending danger, he pointed his cane imperiously at the dividing line on the ground and said “they can’t come past that”.

Neither of us came to harm and I went back to the office. The other journalist had been out taking photos too and we compared notes before I headed back to the Creek. I went back to the Big Rig footbridge and waded across the waterlogged grounds. The road had been become more flooded in the hour or so I was away and nearly every garden was inundated. Still the mood was optimistic and no house was yet flooded as far as I could tell. One owner on a side street pointed to the brackish water outside his house and said that meant it had peaked. But a few minutes later the SES guys with the boat told me the waters were still rising.

As the rain returned, I went back to the western side of the creek for more photos. The Emergency guys there told me the creek was now up to 7m and still rising. As if the sight of roads resembling rivers wasn’t surreal enough, a rainbow rose above the scene. It was another picture to add to a great collection today. Finally around 6pm I decided to get back home on foot. I went over the creek bridge that was not overflowing but all the access roads to my house were closed. I had to walk back barefoot on the centre of the road as the water rose to waist level in parts.

At my house the waters had crossed the gate and waterlogged the entire garden. The water level had risen to the first of three steps into the house. Although the waters receded again overnight, they are still predicting rain for the next three days and it won’t take much for the inundation to rise further. I’ve learned over the last few days not be surprised what water can do.

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