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    Media Statements

    Coat of ArmsMedia Release
    Premier and Minister for the Arts
    The Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk

    Transcript- Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie- 29 March, 2017

    Premier and Minister for the Arts
    The Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk

    Wednesday, March 29, 2017

    Transcript- Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie- 29 March, 2017

    PREMIER:

    The system, which is travelling inland, but of course is going to affect coastal communities, right down to the South East well into Friday. My main message today for residents on the Whitsunday Coast, is please stay off the roads. We need you to stay off the roads because at 9 o’clock this morning, the ADF will be doing a reconnaissance, they will be looking at the structural damage which is happening on the Whitsunday Coast, and we need to be able to get our emergency services personnel in as quickly as possible. I’ll also get Commissioner Carrol to talk about the consequences if you are on the roads and flood levels are rising. I want to thank everyone for their patience, I want to thank the people of the Whitsunday Coast for remaining indoors and going through what was a severe category four system. We’ve had reports out of Collinsville that at this stage there are no injuries and thankfully that is the case, because Collinsville did receive category two winds last night and as people have been reporting, it was one of the most horrific nights of their life, and thankfully were hearing there have been no issues there. In terms of power. We have over 63,000 people without power at the moment. This is consistent with the number of people who lost power during Cyclone Marcia. In Mackay we have a 45 percent power loss, Serena a 75 percent, and we also have loss of power in Moranbah as well as those areas of Proserpine, Bowen and Airlie Beach. We also have isolated communities along the coast which have no phone contact at the moment and of course we feel for those communities as well and as part of the ADF satellite imaging, they will also be going in and trying to have a look at those small coastal communities as well. For many people this morning, they are waking up and they are seeing the devastation that has happened in their communities. Our hearts go out to them. There would be nothing more tragic then waking up and seeing walls that have come in from your houses, roofs that have gone off, and debris that is lying across your roads. Our priority is to look after you. It is to look after the families that have been deeply impacted by this horrific cyclone. And that is why we are now moving into the recovery phase, and families come first. Everything we do now is for the families of the Whitsunday Coast, the regions that have been impacted. We will have community recovery officers getting into these communities as quickly as possible. We will also be sending out public health safety messages when it comes to food and water, so please listen to the authorities when they release those messages as well. I also want to thank the ambulance officers who have been attending to some incidents overnight. And on a bright note it is lovely to see a little baby girls has been born overnight during this cyclone. A big thankyou to the doctor and ambulance officer that were on hand there for that delivery. In relation to health we’ve got an extra 50 ambulance officers in the region ready to come in because as I said we just don’t know yet if there are any other injuries and our priority is of course to assist people as possible and we will be having an assistant commissioner stationed there to assist as well. All the hospitals will be open in the area and if there are any emergencies we will be sending people to their closest hospital. Their normal hospital. So it should not be too traumatic for people. We will also be sending 70 staff, nurses and doctors from Townsville, down into Bowen and Proserpine, to relieve staff that have been working very late and overnight and into the morning. So, our priority is to get resources on the ground. That is going to be the key. We’ve already seen some significant structural damage, we’ve been briefed on that by the State Disaster Coordinator, and those images are being aired across the televisions and across social media. A lot of structural damage, across that Whitsunday Region, we’re also prioritising getting water out to Daydream Island, we’ve got about 200 guests on that island, and about 100 staff. That’ll be a priority today as well. But, power remains a big issue, and of course the debris on the roads, we’ve got to clear the roads, get our emergency personnel there. So, please families on the Whitsunday Coast, we’re getting there as quickly as possible. We need to get the ADF to do their job first and foremost and we will be with you as soon as possible, so I will hand over to Matthew from the Bureau to give us an update on the weather system. We are going to also need people to stay off our roads as the weather system comes down, inlands and affects parts of our coast. That is very important. If you do not have to be on the roads until Friday, please stay off the roads. It’s going to be some dangerous conditions and I do want all Queenslander to be safe. I’ll hand over to Matthew.

    MATTHEW BASS, BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY:

    Thank you Premier. Good morning. The tropical cyclone was downgraded to a tropical low at 3am overnight. Currently it is located to the north-west of Moranbah and it is continuing to track to the south-west this morning. During today we expect the remnant low to begin a more southerly track and then take a south-easterly track during this evening, and that will bring the low down across south-eastern Queensland during Thursday and Friday, and we are expecting the low to move off the South-East Queensland coast during Friday morning, and that will clear the weather during Friday morning. However, in the meantime, we are still expecting very heavy rainfall, and we have issued a severe weather warning for central parts of Queensland today and it is likely we will extend that warning further south into south-eastern Queensland during this evening, and into tomorrow. That warning is for heavy rainfall that will continue. We are looking at falls of 150-250 millimetres throughout the warning region today, with those falls continuing tomorrow, as that low tracks down towards South-East Queensland. Those sorts of falls, we are anticipating some flooding issues as well, and we have a flood watch that now covers much of Queensland from Ayr to the New South Wales border, well inland to the central Highlands and also inland to the Darling Downs as well. So a large area of the State that needs to be aware of flooding issues. Also in that warning, we are warning for damaging wind gusts. We are expecting damaging wind gusts up to 120km/h with this system as it tracks to the south. The wind gusts can be near the remaining low centre, and also particularly along the coastal strip will be quite exposed, so that zone of stronger winds will track with the low being inland, along the coastal strip down towards the south-east over the next couple of days, and will move offshore during Friday morning with the clearance. The other thing to mention is on the coast we will see large waves and some abnormally high tides, so people in coastal zones should be aware of that, and those large waves and high tides will continue down the coast with the low as it tracks to the south as well. So we will leave it at that, but please be aware of all the warnings. I recommend you do go to the bureau's website www.bom.gov.au and please keep up to date with all of the warnings. Thank you.

    REPORTER:

    In terms of South East Queensland for a flood warning, what’s the most crucial timing?

    MATTHEW BASS, BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY:

    The heaviest rainfall for across the South-East Queensland area is likely to be overnight Thursday into Friday morning, so the rainfall should really pick up intensity across the south-east during Thursday afternoon. However, we are anticipating overnight Wednesday into Thursday and early Thursday morning, areas like the Darling Downs and the Burnett should also see heavy rainfall, as well as coastal zones up towards the Wide Bay.

    REPORTER:

    Estimated falls at this stage?

    MATTHEW BASS, BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY:

    Estimated falls around about 150-250 millimetres. It is likely that some of the really prone areas may see heavier totals. Prone areas, Gold Coast hinterland, Sunshine Coast hinterland, areas like that, where the terrain near the coast can ramp the rainfall up, but generally we are looking at 150-250 millimetres.

    REPORTER:

    How much of a worry is that moving through northern New South Wales and potentially combining with the remnants of this cyclone going to be, especially around the southern Gold Coast, northern New South Wales area?

    MATTHEW BASS, BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY:

    Yes, so the way the system is moving at the moment, the low is what's - what's causing it to turn is actually is the effects of systems in southern Australia at the moment, so that's causing it to turn and causing it to pick up speed and move towards the south-east, so really the low will be the main effect for us coming down, being steered a bit by the southern systems, but it will just move down and push off the coast during Friday.

    REPORTER:

    Do you have any information on dams in South East Queensland?

    PREMIER:

    Yes, I can get Minister Mark Bailey to update on the dams.

    MATTHEW BASS, BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY:

    Thank you.

    MINISTER BAILEY:

    Look we've had a very long, dry summer in South-East Queensland so Wivenhoe is 67%, Somerset is 74 and North Pine is only 51.5 and is the strongest position we've been in for a number of years in terms of flood capacity of our big dams in South East Queensland.

    REPORTER:

    So any water being released from dams at this stage in preparation for the rain?

    MINISTER BAILEY:

    Yes, SEQ Water is doing pre-emptive releases from Somerset into Wivenhoe at the moment, that's to level up the dams to maximise capacity. That's not likely to affect any residents in any way.

    REPORTER:

    What about south of Wivenhoe, any plans to release water from Wivenhoe at this stage?

    MINISTER BAILEY:

    No, there are no plans. Wivenhoe at 67% has got a large level of capacity available.

    REPORTER:

    Premier, this, as you said, emergency services have been at papers to point out moves into a different phase, there is the recovery going on, getting emergency crews out there, but this floods phase, how serious is it and obviously you want to avoid complacency with that as the system moves down that coast.

    PREMIER:

    Thanks Karl that is a very good question because we don't want any complacency and that is why we are asking people to stay off our roads. We're looking at the rainfall coming into our catchments and the modelling is happening extensively here at Kedron. We have some of the best experts in Australia looking at all of that but my key message is to stay off the roads because we will see some incidents of flash flooding and once again that is putting not just your lives at risk but the lives of SES workers and I might just get Commissioner Carroll to talk briefly about swift water rescues and what that will mean if people venture out on to the roads with some of these rising floodwaters.

    KATARINA CARROLL, Acting QFES Commissioner:

    Thank you, Commissioner, and good morning. Sorry, thank you, Premier, and good morning, everyone. As the Premier has said, look, it's dangerous really to be out on the roads at the moment. There is flash flooding and we're expecting more of that. We've already had two incidents this morning where we've rescued someone in Proserpine, who was caught in their vehicle in flooded waters and my crews are going to a similar incident in Mackay. So this is the typical example of what occurs when we're out on those roads. This will continue in the next few days. So please, we've spoken this - about this for the last several days, we will continue to speak about this - if you don't have to be on the roads, please don't. The other thing it does, it actually clogs up that road system, so the first responders and the emergency workers cannot get to you in time. So there's already a lot of debris, there's a lot of trees, there is a lot of water, and the situation is still quite dangerous out there. But please, stay off the roads if you don't have to be on them.

    REPORTER:

    Commissioner, do you have enough staff and resources to deal with what's happening in Central and Northern Queensland as well as a flood emergency in South East Queensland?

    KATARINA CARROLL, Acting QFES Commissioner:

    Yes, we’re planning for that and planning ahead, so we’ve asked assistance from the New South Wales Fire Service, I’ve got 56 staff coming up to assist us. Particularly around the assessments that need to be done in the area, but certainly Patrick we’ve planned for that.          

    REPORTER:

    Do you have any particular concerns about South East Queensland in the next few days?

    KATARINA CARROLL, Acting QFES Commissioner:

    You know my biggest concern is always around the swift water rescues we know and plan for. It is only a short time ago that four people died - on one weekend, five people died in one weekend in May, because they were caught in floodwaters, so that's what we plan for and that's why the messaging is always, always, if it is flooded, forget it and think about plan B.

    REPORTER:

    Do we have any early numbers already on how many homes which may have sustained damage?

    KATARINA CARROLL, Acting QFES Commissioner:

    We're just in the process of sectorising the streets and we're starting that. The issue we're having at the moment is around power and communications. So we're setting up our mobile cell on wheels, so we can communicate with staff, but certainly the comprehensive assessment of damage has been started in that area and it will continue throughout the day.

    REPORTER:

    We continue to see also very strong winds associated with this - with the remnants of this cyclone. That's still going to be a danger, isn't it, even if it moves inland?

    KATARINA CARROLL, Acting QFES Commissioner:

    So what's hampering, obviously, the situation with the assessments and for rescuers to get out there is the rain and the water. Particularly, I'd like to comment at this stage that we have got well over 800 SES requests. That will increase dramatically when power comes back and communications come back, and people start moving to their houses. Please be patient with us - we will get to you, but what will hamper us getting to you is the conditions out on the roads and the fact that there is still strong gusts and a lot of rain. Thank you.

    REPORTER:

    Premier, insurance assessors are already on the ground or heading into the area. What's your message to the insurance companies?

    PREMIER:

    Oh, look, very clearly, and the Treasurer spoke about this on our phone hook-up just before -first of all, I want the assessors to treat people with respect. A lot of families are going to be waking up today shell-shocked about what they're seeing around them. We already are starting - the insurance companies are already starting to mobilise and get their call centres set up, so a lot of work is going in making sure they're on the ground and ready to talk to people. I want people to be respectful, because a lot of people have lost their personal possessions and this is going to be, you know, a really rough time for them in the coming days, if not weeks or months, as they start their rebuilding. Just in relation to Karl's question he said before, we're still going to be seeing strong winds of up to 125km/h. What we are seeing is the tracking of this system is looking largely inland, but what we are going to see is the effects of this system felt along the coastal communities as well, from Yeppoon southwards down to the South-East. We will see some beach closures. We will see large waves, as well, and what we need to do is make sure, once again, that people take precautionary measures and don't go out into these conditions if they do not need to. This weather system is a huge weather system. It has come across the coast in northern Queensland and is going to come all the way down to the south-east - a huge system. So I need everyone to listen to the authorities and, like the Commissioner has said, and the State Disaster coordinator, if you do not need to be on the roads, do not be on the roads. So we're going to be updating people on a regular basis. We will be continuing to have our Queensland Disaster Management Committee meetings, we'll have another one this evening and another one tomorrow morning and as that system moves further down the coast, I'll also be making sure that the local mayors and the local Disaster Management Committee meetings are also connected in, so they get the most up to date information. I think communication here is the absolute key.

    REPORTER:

    In terms of health and safety in areas that are the worst hit, what are you doing to put food and water into those places?

    PREMIER:

    So we've already sent up a lot of food through our freight network before the weather system hit, so we do have supplies ready to go into IGA and Woolworths. However, what we do know is, because the power has been out, it is going to be unsafe to eat some of the food that is currently there. So Dr Jeanette Young, our Chief Medical Officer will be putting out information to people in the next few hours and we will be communicating that to families as quickly as possible.

     

    REPORTER:

    Talking about power, are there any indications yet how long it will be before we start to see it restored?

    PREMIER:

    I might get Minister Bailey to talk about that but we do have a large number of homes that are deep impacted and as we saw this is about the same number with Cyclone Marcia, so this will take a lot of time and effort. People could be without people even up to a week or over a week. Some places will be able to be restored quickly. We do not know that at this stage until we get the assessments in. Mark?

    MINISTER BAILEY:

    Yeah, look, we've got more than 820 power workers from right across the state, pre-deployed, both north and south of the impact zone and also in the impact zone. What will happen, though, based on previous cyclones, is the assessments need to be made and what power workers are dealing with is water across roads - the Bruce Highway is cut in three places, just north of Bowen, at Airlie Beach and also south of Mackay. In some places you have large trees wrapped up in live wires, so that work has to be done safely and we have to get access into areas before we can get power back on. We can’t put our power workers at risk either. So what we'll see probably in the next day or two is we might not get a lot of progress on the power front until we can safely get that work done.

    REPORTER:

    Is week is going to be unfathomable for people who have been through this system and what they've already been through and how long they are without power

    MINISTER BAILEY:

    We will do this week as quickly as we possibly can. This has been the best preparation we've ever seen for a cyclone. The predeployments are unprecedented, so they are closer to the action than they've ever been. They're raring to go and we'll get this work done as quickly as we can, but I can say for the first day or two, just simply getting access in there is difficult when you've got waters across roads and you've got floodwaters to deal with. That's going to be the issue. So we'll get through this work as quickly as we can, as those assessments are done. But it will be a day by day progress.

    REPORTER:

    Just to be accurate, what are we defying as the impact zone? Mackay?

    STEVE GOLLSCHEWSKI, Deputy Commissioner :

    Good morning, obviously there has been a large area that's impacted, but the really severe area is that area around Bowen, Whitsunday and Proserpine. Those areas and the Whitsunday Islands remain difficult for us to contact and to get into. We're progressively getting information out of there. I'm pleased to say the information that we're getting out of there is whilst there are significant damage there are no injured people. For instance, all the people on Daydream Island - significant damage but everyone is safe. So we'll work through that and make sure people are safe and then we'll get the damage stuff done. So that area there is the area of most focus.

    REPORTER:

    One of the islands in the north was a big impacted and Mackay to the south was a big impacted...

    STEVE GOLLSCHEWSKI, Deputy Commissioner:

    And Collinsville, too, of course, we're looking at that.

    REPORTER:

    Do you have any idea of the rough population of that part of the area is?

    STEVE GOLLSCHEWSKI, Deputy Commissioner:

    If you look at Mackay, it's just around 100,000, and with Collinsville we're talking about 25,000 or so.

    REPORTER:

    One of the islands is running out of water, they're trying to get people off the island, can you update us as to the progress of that?

    STEVE GOLLSCHEWSKI, Deputy Commissioner:

    Yes our water police are already engaged with a number of tasks up that way. They're constrained by the environment. Air travel is constrained by the environment. We're constantly monitoring that as the day goes on, working with our partner agencies, including the ADF, we'll look at how we can get assets in there.

    REPORTER:

    You’re going to try and get them off?

    STEVE GOLLSCHEWSKI, Deputy Commissioner:

    We will look at it on a priority basis and their safety and needs at the moment. We have a big area we need to consider and triage and we need to do it as we go. We're fortunate we have resources in that area already and we're looking at getting more resources in today.

    REPORTER:

    You mentioned there was no injuries as of yet. Are you still expecting fatalities and further injuries?

    STEVE GOLLSCHEWSKI, Deputy Commissioner:

    We have to be very careful with this because we have up to half of our power network out, that means we can't contact everyone. We simply don't know what the extent of this is. We're very encouraged by the fact that, for instance, Bowen isn't as bad as we thought it would be. Significant damage, not the destruction that we feared and certainly no reports of people seriously injured out of those areas. As the day unfolds we will get real clarity around this.

    REPORTER:

    Any update on the condition of the gentleman who was injured yesterday with the wall collapse.

    STEVE GOLLSCHEWSKI, Deputy Commissioner:

    Yes we understand he is stable.

    REPORTER:

    Any dramas with looting or anything like that?

    STEVE GOLLSCHEWSKI, Deputy Commissioner:

    We're experienced with that, we're deploying our resources to make sure the community is not only safe but is also secure.

    REPORTER:

    Premier do you have any plans for today?

    PREMIER:

    Later on this morning, I hope to be meeting with Brigadier Chris Field to talk about the Defence Force operations so I'm looking forward to meeting with him in Townsville in the next few hours.

    REPORTER:

    Will you go to the zones?

    PREMIER:

    I will only go to the zones when it is safe to do so, and with the clear indication from the Australian Defence Force that that is OK and safe for me to do so. So I would like to get on the ground as quickly as possible to see how the communities are. A lot of families are going to be going through their worst nightmare and I just want to reassure them that all of Queensland is with them.

    REPORTER:

    You were going to be on the Gold Coast next week, are you still going to do that?

    PREMIER:

    We have postponed our meetings of the Gold Coast for governing from the Gold Coast for next week. That is the right thing to do. I expect all of my ministers to be focused on the recovery efforts and, as you have just heard, this weather system is going to be continuing for the rest of this week and I need everyone focused on this.

    REPORTER:

    You have families up there, too, you have members of your family up there, and it has taken a toll for a lot of people across a broad area.

    PREMIER:

    Look, absolutely. My brother-in-law was raised in Bowen with his family. His father was the local high schoolteacher up there. They moved with family up to Townsville during this weather event. Hopefully their house is OK, but it has had a deep impact on a lot of people living in that region, and as people in regional Queensland know, they always back each other, they're always there for each other and now is the time for neighbours to help neighbours.

    REPORTER:

    Do you have any details of people trapped in that house at Eaton in Mackay?

    STEVE GOLLSCHEWSKI, Deputy Commissioner:

    Not specifically, but can I say we had a number of reports of roofs off with people still in them throughout the event, all of them have been accounted for at this stage, subject to our ability to get into the field, but not specifically about that.

    PREMIER:

    Okay, Commissioner do you want to say anything in closing?

    POLICE COMMISSIONER Ian Stewart:

    No, thank you, Premier. Ladies and gentlemen, this has been an extraordinary weather event, but the key message today is that it's not over. Yes, we are starting that transition from response into recovery, and we're very, very grateful for the cooperation of the community, but this next phase is just as important and can be just as dangerous, as we start to do the assessments, we start to get into some of those communities that have been isolated. We know, for instance, that there are still a number of communities in that main damage area that have no access to communication. So - and that includes 000. So our priority will be to ensure that we get into those areas first, and we do as much as we can to ensure their safety. There are calls that will come in, and we've already heard about the swift water rescues that are taking place. There are calls coming in where people will make a choice about going out on the roads, about doing other things that are, perhaps, not the best decision, and those avoidable events are ones that soak up the resources of emergency services. Those emergency services need to be out there focusing primarily on the assessments and making sure that the small communities and those isolated communities are safe. So I truly ask the public - have patience. Work with your neighbours. Don't go out if you don't have to. Because at the end of the day, we need to keep everyone safe. We've been, I think, extraordinarily fortunate right to this point in time in this event - we need to keep it that way as this whole big system moves now out into Central Queensland and down the coastal areas. We've got a long way to go yet - we need your cooperation. We need you to heed the warnings that are coming from your officials, from the government and from the agencies that are most concerned with the planning now that will go forward with this very significant rain event. And remember - wind gusts are above 100km/h, they are basically category one cyclone winds and even though it is not a cyclone anymore, it is still quite destructive. We need people to understand that and work with us to keep the entirety of Queensland safe.

    REPORTER:

    Can you qualify the attitude to dangerous evacuations, do I understand you to say that will only happen A, if you think it's necessary and B –

    STEVE GOLLSCHEWSKI, Deputy Commissioner:

    No, sorry, it's whether we can. So can we actually get there, so we have to put that into it. Then we have to look at the priority of everyone that has to be evacuated. So definitely people will be evacuated.

    REPORTER:

    So you want to but it depends on the planning?

    STEVE GOLLSCHEWSKI, Deputy Commissioner:

    Yes, and that planning is happening today and we're working through it.

    REPORTER:

    Commissioner Stewart, you have 390 police on standby [inaudible] will they still be deployed?

    POLICE COMMISSIONER Ian Stewart:

    Absolutely, but we are still seeing significant road closures. The Bruce Highway is cut north of Bowen and south of Proserpine, and these are very, very critical times for us. Obviously, with the help of other agencies, particularly the ADF, we can airlift people in, but again, this is a fine balance between using up resources locally and doing the job. And that's why it's so important for people to think of their neighbours, their loved ones in their local area, to help them out when they can, but certainly not - not to go out on the roads unless it's absolutely critical in that area that has been devastated by this cyclone.

    REPORTER:

    And just in terms of the scope of what's unfolding, you've got what's happening in Central Queensland with Cyclone Debbie, and the South-East. Resources are going to be stretched enormously over the next week or so?

    POLICE COMMISSIONER Ian Stewart:

    They are, but like every emergency services, we've planned for this, we're ready for it, we have our contingencies in place. Core business is important right across the state but at the same time we've got to manage that critical threat to our community and we take that very seriously.

    PREMIER:

    Thanks, everyone. Just in closing, can I thank all of our emergency services personnel. They are outstanding Queenslanders. They have your best interests at heart, they are working night and day, and, honestly, I couldn't ask for a finer bunch of men and women to work with. Thank you.

    [ENDS]