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    Media Statements

    Coat of ArmsMedia Release
    Premier and Minister for the Arts
    The Honourable Anna Bligh


    Premier and Minister for the Arts
    The Honourable Anna Bligh

    Thursday, January 13, 2011


    E & O E – PROOF ONLY




    13 JANUARY 2011


    PREMIER ANNA BLIGH: Well, Queensland is reeling this morning from the worst natural disaster in our history and possibly in the history of our nation. As we look across Queensland and see three quarters of our state having experienced the devastation of raging floodwaters, we now face a reconstruction task of post war proportions. That is how we are seeing it and that is the sort of steely determination that it will require to overcome what we have seen in the last three weeks. As we have all watched with awe at the power of Mother Nature here and Ipswich and in Brisbane we are also very mindful that in the regions of Queensland people are still facing rising floodwaters. If I can just take you thought what is happening in some other parts of the state first in Goondiwindi the rivers are continuing to rise. It has the town headed for its record ever flood and it is likely to peak overnight. We are keeping a very careful watch on the levy banks around Goondiwindi. The water is likely to move very close to those levy bank levels. We are very concerned about Goondiwindi and throughout the day will provide further updates. The town of Condamine are also seeing record levels in their river, continuing to rise. It may not reach quite the peak it did last week but will be in that vicinity either tomorrow or on the weekend. I am very pleased that the river levels in all other river systems are now falling but in Goondiwindi and in Condamine we see them rising. In the Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley region, while the water has receded, the kind of devastation that it has left I think is only now becoming fully clear to everybody in that valley. This is a valley that has been completely and utterly devastated. There are whole towns that are now unrecognisable. Unfortunately I can confirm that just this morning we have a further death to add to the toll in the valley. We have a thirteenth victim has been found in a field near Grantham and the Deputy Commissioner can make further comment about that a little later but our condolences go to the family of another victim of the terrible flood in the Lockyer Valley. We also have some more than 70 people now notified as missing. With the floods particularly in and around the Ipswich area, many people were unable to locate friends and loved ones last night and have made reports to the police of missing persons. We hope that throughout the day, as we locate people in evacuation centres and others in some of the informal evacuation centres, if you like, that we will be able to put those people’s minds at rest but we will nevertheless be out looking for all of the people who have been listed as missing. There is now a major search and rescue mission in the Lockyer Valley. It is a mission that has been supplied by the Australian Defence Force, by Police, by Fire and Rescue staff and by emergency workers - in some of the towns that the search and rescue operations are operational in. Of course we are also trying to get utilities reconnected. Can I reassure people in each of these towns that despite rescue efforts, utilities trades people will be going in today, they will be given some priority by police and we’ll be looking to have electricity supplied where possible, as quickly as we can. We also did see a large number of people in an evacuation centre in Gatton who have come out of some of those small towns and they are likely to be there for some time. So many of them who were in the evacuation centre, they are now with family and friends where possible in the Gatton area but as I said, likely to be out of their homes for some time. We also have some major supply issues in other parts of Queensland towns like Rockhampton where the water is falling. It is not falling at the rate that we had predicted and we are seeing those roads cut for longer than we had hoped. So it may be well into the weekend or even later before we see the roads into Rockhampton open and we are continuing to provide Australian Defence Force planes to take groceries and supplies into those towns North of Rockhampton, supply back into Rocky and supply north. So that cut in the Bruce Highway is causing a great deal of problem and concern with supplies into those parts of Queensland. However, we did have planes go into Townsville and to Bundaberg last night and this morning and they will continue those flights for as long as possible. Here in the South East I think a number of people have woken up to some good news and some relief this morning but I have to stress that authorities in the South East are still on full alert. This continues to be a very dangerous situation. We have 118,000 residencies without electricity and electricity cuts to the CBD mean that there are considerable strains on our traffic management system. Traffic management cameras are out around the city so this is a potentially very dangerous situation across a city the size of Brisbane and I repeat the warnings we’ve given. Please, if you don’t have to be out there on the roads, don’t be, it is a dangerous situation. We also have dangerous fast moving water going through our rivers and creeks and we need to make sure people stay away from them. But we also know that this morning, thousands of people in the South East, literally thousands, have woken to the unbearable agony of their homes have been devastated, their businesses, their workplaces have been devastated and for some people it’s been both their workplace and their homes, washed away. For many others, they may not have water in their backyards but they have woken to the devastation of parts of their city. I don’t think there is any more a powerful symbol than what’s happened to the modern city of Brisbane than the sight of our floating walkway drifting down the Brisbane River this morning. The floating walkway is a much loved part of Brisbane. It is the modern face of a thriving, sophisticated capital city. It is a loss that we will all experience and there will be other experiences just like it. In neighbourhoods where people watched their parks, their swings, their recreational spaces, possibly their schools all devastated. So there’s a lot of grief and there’s a lot of pain, not only here in the South East but in other parts of Queensland today.

    Here in the South East I wanted to acknowledge that overnight we had no emergency rescues. That is a great tribute to the people of this region. I am very proud of them. They did what we asked. We said please be sensible, make sensible decisions, move to higher ground, don’t stay in dangerous situations and they followed all the warnings, they co-operated with our emergency staff and I am very, very proud of our staff who were out there on the front line last night. We had an enormous army of police, fire and rescue and emergency staff. They were assisted by about 400 defence personnel right across this region. It was an incredible effort overnight and I am very grateful to all of the people who heeded our warnings and helped our emergency staff keep us all safe. As I said we have I think it’s actually 119,000 homes and businesses without power. There are 37 substations in the CBD that are currently cut. We will this morning start prioritising substations for reconnection. There are some suburbs that were disconnected as a precaution because of the level we thought the water would reach. Those suburbs can be reconnected very quickly and that process is starting this morning so please be patient as that is rolled out. In other areas some stations were disconnected and water did go into them. Sp there will be some areas that will take some time to reconnect and again, and again I ask for your patience. I also encourage you to keep listening to news. We will let you know which suburbs are being reconnected over the course of today.

    But for some suburbs you may find because other parts of your neighbourhood are seriously flooded we may not be able to reconnect power for some days. Please listen to the information we are putting out on electricity supply because you may need to make decisions about relocating to friends for a couple of nights if you don’t think you’re going to have power. We are also working very hard to restore – where they have been affected – telecommunications. This has been a particular issue in the Lockyer Valley in the areas of Gatton, Helidon, Grantham, not only have they had phone lines cut but they have had mobile phone towers go down. These are people in desperate circumstances and they haven’t been able to make or receive mobile phone calls. Today we’ve got temporary mobile phone towers being erected and I hope that that helps and it assists in assuring that they don’t feel quite as alone as they might have in the last couple of days.

    When an event like this happens, you see the best come out in people and we’ve seen it already on our streets, people out there helping their neighbours and doing everything they can and what we’re now seeing is an avalanche of people wanting to volunteer for the cleanup, not only here in Brisbane but across the whole of the state. Can I just thank you for the calls that you are making we are going to need every single person to be part of this but can I implore, the best way to make use of you is if we do it in an organised way. So can I encourage people to go and register online with Volunteering Queensland. This is a peak volunteering body; they are experts at making sure that we get the best use out of volunteers. Please go online and register and you will be contacted about the way that we can use you and use your skills.

    But we’d also encourage people, please help your neighbours, your friends and your family first. If we help the people we know around us then that will make the task for the authorities that much easier. As I said at the start, we have seen here in our capital city a devastating event but it is no more devastating than those that we have seen in towns and cities right across regional Queensland for the last three weeks. I want to reassure regional Queensland that as we go about the business of recovering here in Ipswich and in Brisbane, we will keep the towns and cities of regional Queensland absolutely at the front of our radar. You will not be forgotten. I have tasked our Major General Mick Slater with the task of being out there in every one of the towns affected. He has been out there this week, he’ll continue those duties, and he has not been used to deal with the immediate circumstances here in Brisbane. His task of rebuilding is full steam ahead and we are not being diverted from the business of recovering your communities by the issues here in the South East.

    Can I say to Queenslanders everywhere: Wherever you are and there are so many places to list, if you are in central Queensland, if you’re in Southwest Queensland, if you’re in Western Queensland, if you’re in the Burnett Region, the Darling Downs, Toowoomba, the Lockyer Valley, Ipswich or Brisbane, all of those places have been affected by floods and I say to every one of those people in those areas and to Queenslanders in other parts of the state: as we weep for what we have lost, and as we grieve for family and friends, and we confront the challenge that is before us, I want us to remember who we are. We are Queenslanders; we’re the people that they breed tough north of the border. We’re the ones that they knock down and we get up again. I said earlier this week that this weather may break our hearts and it is doing that but it will not break our will and in the coming weeks and in the coming months we are going to prove that beyond any doubt. Together, we can pull through this and that’s what I’m determined to do and with your help, we can achieve that. Thank you.

    IAN STEWART: Good morning ladies and gentleman. As the Premier as announced unfortunately we have had another confirmed death this morning and unfortunately I’ve got to warn Queensland that we need to brace ourselves for more bad news. Certainly that’s because we are now getting emergency services personnel and police into some of the more remote areas of the Lockyer Valley where we haven’t been able to get to until now. I am sure that as we go through this process of meticulously searching some of the very isolated areas, remote farmhouses and buildings that have been collapsed, that unfortunately we will receive more bad news in relation to victims of this very, very tragic event. If there is one message that I will give to Queensland as well; could you please be patient with emergency service personnel. I have, on a number of occasions asked the community; don’t go out of your way to go into areas where you are not wanted or needed. This is going to be a critical issue particularly over the next forty-eight hours. So please keep away from those areas. Respect the needs of the rest of the community and in particular, obey the directions of emergency services personnel in particular police. They will have very, very good reason to keep you out of areas or to give you directions. Thank you.

    JOURNALIST: Can I just ask about the thirteenth victim, are they a male or a female? What do you know about them?

    STEWART All I know is a male, a person who is deceased at Grantham.

    JOURNALIST: We’re hearing reports of a story unfolding of a mass grave underneath the Grantham Bridge. Can you update us on that?

    STEWART: No I can’t because that’s an area that they are going to search today. Access to that area because of the water levels has only just come in the last twelve hours or so.

    JOURNALIST: Some of the rescue efforts we’ve seen, as well as particularly thetug boat driver who steered the riverwalk away from the safety, will anybody be recommended for bravery awards?

    PREMIER: We’ve got local heroes all across Queensland who have... The stories that have been coming out of regional towns and cities, of people who put their own lives at risk to rescue others, we have now seen that across the South East as well. I think everybody thinks that the ‘little tug that could’ this morning did remarkable effort, made a remarkable effort. There’s no doubt in my mind that the tug driver saved lives. Without him steering that 300 tonne piece of concrete away from boats and pontoons we would have seen that debris into the river system and into flooded areas. So we’ll certainly be looking to recognise local heroes out of this event in the little towns, big towns and cities when the time comes but we’re certainly very very proud of the people who have been out there, as I said, being the heroes of this event.

    JOURNALIST: Premier, is there a risk that the blue sky and with the lower than expected level that people will underestimate how bad this situation actually is?

    PREMIER: We are in a very strange situation here in Brisbane. There are parts of the city which today are seeing blue sky and sunshine for the first time in weeks. Their suburb is completely unaffected and they probably feel a bit euphoric this morning. But that’s because they haven’t yet gone into those suburbs that have been completely devastated. I think in the days to come as people get out and start talking to their friends, as they start to be part of the volunteer teams, as they start to actually see and hear some of the stories of the families that have been affected by this, I guess the reality will start to sink in for everybody and I’m sorry if I was a little emotional but the reality sinks in when you are flying over those homes and you look at those roofs and I could see hundreds of roofs yesterday and all I could see was their rooftops. Underneath every one of those roofs is a family and underneath every single one of those rooftops is a horror story and we’re going to see that play out. So I think it’s going to take some days for it to totally sink in, in Brisbane what has happened to our city. As the water goes down, that floating walkway is only one part of the city that we can tangibly see we’ve lost. We are going to see damage and destruction in the central business district, in the parks, in the gardens, in the schools and in the neighbourhoods of people we know and love. So it is going to be a gradual realisation.

    JOURNALIST: There’s now potentially tens of thousands of people homeless. Now where do you think those people live?

    PREMIER: That’s why I describe our task now as one of post war proportions. We potentially have thousands of people who will need temporary accommodation. We currently have serious and significant issues about water supply and food supply. Can I reassure people we are being assisted by experts from around Australia from the Australian defence force. We have teams of people now working on every one of these priorities. I think it looks like a mammoth task and it is but let’s have confidence in the people who have protected us so far who have shown what they can do in the recovery and the cleanup in regional Queensland. This is a huge job. I don’t have all of the detailed answers right now. What I can tell you is that we have dedicated task groups of people working on every one of these questions. Sorry the one other issue I want to repeat from yesterday in relation to water and I know that it sounds very strange with all of this water around us. One of the issues that our water supply will face is that the movement in these flood waters has created a great deal of turbidity and that means the water is very dirty. We are asking people only use the water that you need at this point. Please let’s remember our water conservation efforts and apply them. We need to make sure we keep our water supplies and we need to reserve and conserve as much of the clean water supply that we’ve got at the moment. We do have the Tugun desalination plant activated and that will make a big difference but if we all conserve water then we’ll all be fine.

    JOURNALIST: How are the essential services like water treatment plants and sewage, how are they holding up?

    PREMIER: At this stage, unless Ian wants to add, I’m not aware of any major issues with the sewerage treatment plants but that’s something I suspect the Brisbane City Council will be assessing and have to report on a little later today.

    JOURNALIST: Do you have any information on some of the figures of how many people are expected to be homeless in Brisbane because that number has been fluctuating all morning.

    PREMIER: Okay, just hang on a moment and I’ll get you...The best estimates from the Brisbane City Council at the moment is that 11,900 homes in Brisbane have experienced flooding across their entire property. Now that means across the footprint of their whole property so they may be unable to access or it may be above the floorboards or in some cases right up to the roof. A further 14,700 homes have experienced some partial inundation. So we are talking there in the numbers close to the 25,000-30,000 mark. The estimates indicate that about 2,500 commercial businesses have been fully inundated or impacted and a further 2,500 have had some partial impact. Of course there’s also the question of roads being cut of f and maybe being cut off for some time. So there are some people who simply can’t get to their homes because the roads are keeping them out even though their homes have not been impacted. So there will be some people who will be able to get in, in the next couple of days, assess the damage clean up and get back into their homes within a week. There will be others and sorry I think we need to prepare ourselves for this. There will be others who will go into their homes and find that those homes will never be habitable again and that will require a total rebuilding effort and for some people they will have some insurance to cover, things like temporary accommodation, but many people will not. So yes, temporary accommodation and when I say temporary it could be for months will have to be put in place to assist people as they rebuild homes that cannot be lived in ever again.

    JOURNALIST: Rebuilding these roads and replacing some of the damage, I mean, it could take weeks if not months, what do you sort of, what are the expectations for downtown Brisbane?

    PREMIER: Clearly we will.. it is simply not possible to restore every road that is cut off in regional Queensland and around the cities of Brisbane and Ipswich. We will have to prioritise major arterial roads that are essential for food supply. We will then have to prioritise within the city, major roads for access into the central business district. We need obviously to operationalise the CBD as quickly as we can because it really is the nerve centre of managing the rest of this disaster. So we need strategic prioritisation undertaken and that’s what we’ve got people working on right now.

    JOURNALIST: The water isn’t expected to remain high until the weekend. We’ve basically seen a shutdown of the CBD until maybe next Monday?

    STEWART: Certainly. Brisbane is only one aspect of this and it will take some days until those water levels drop and until we can allow safe access to all of the roads and those major roads around the central business district. But you’ve got to remember in the Lockyer Valley and in many, many of those other communities, bridges have been washed out, culverts have gone, and there is going to be a massive reconstruction process necessary to bring our highway system back into full use.

    JOURNALIST: Regarding the Riverwalk, what will happen to it now, will we see it rebuilt and what could have happened to the part that came loose?

    PREMIER: The Riverwalk that you saw floating down the Brisbane river this morning was a piece of concrete that weighed 300 tonnes. If the tug that was steering it away from the river banks and away from pontoons and other vessels had not been successful or if it had broken loose without any guidance, you can imagine the kind of damage it might have done even breaking into parts of the river system. It was a very lucky save; the question of whether or not it’s rebuilt is one that we will have to think about at another time. It is I think a very important powerful symbol of our modern city but it is not our first priority.

    JOURNALIST: The Gateway Bridge was closed this morning for a time were there concerns that there was going to be damage to the bridge?

    STEWART: The gateway bridge was actually closed a number of times overnight because of this situation with the walkway. It was prudent to do that but our engineering experts told us that the gateway bridge, even if it had been hit by that projectile – because that’s really what it was – it wouldn’t have damaged the infrastructure.

    PREMIER There was actually very fine line decisions being made throughout the night. People had to make decisions calculating the risks of sending experts in. They considered actually using explosives to break up the walkway and they had to weigh the risk of that in fast moving water against the possibility of this escaping and seriously damaging the gateway bridge. The Engineering assessments indicated that even if it had hit, the mighty gateways would not have blinked. Given that, a decision was made not to risk further lives by putting emergency workers in there to use explosives to break up the bridge. I think ultimately it proved to be the right decision.

    JOURNALIST: You said that you’d tasked Mick Slater to make sure the regions don’t get left behind, and obviously the disaster’s widened significantly since Monday is there a possibility he may need to report back to appoint a secondary recovery coordinator?

    PREMIER: Yes I am thinking of cloning him. There is no doubt that the task for Major General Mick Slater, the task for all levels of Government and the task of recovery has increased exponentially in the last four days. It doesn’t seem that long ago to me that I was standing at a press conference at the end of last week saying that the situation was stabilising and we could now put emergency disaster behind us and start the rebuilding effort. Well one week later what we have seen is that the rebuilding effort has in fact, more than doubled in its enormity. So yes we will have to sit down with the Major General and the relevant government departments and work through what resources we can bring to this effort and what other resources we need. I have already had a discussion with the Prime Minister who has indicated if we need additional resources, not only for managing the emergency but additional resources for the recovery and the rebuilding from the ADF, they will be available. I have to say and I just want to say to Queenslanders, we have been.. I have been overwhelmed with people ringing my office offering support. Every government around Australia has offered all the resources that they can spare to assist, not only in the clean up but expertise. Engineers to come up here and check bridges so we can open roads sooner, those are the sorts of ... psychologists to help work with people who are in grief. The Prime Minister of New Zealand rang yesterday offering very similar sorts of assistance and expertise. We are not alone in this and we have the substantial resources of our nation, prepared to come and help us get through this and we will use those resources we won’t hesitate.

    JOURNALIST: Last weekend you were saying that there (inaudible) lying ahead of you. How did you feel this morning when you heard that the river had peaked at lower than you had been planning for?

    PREMIER: I was very grateful this morning when I heard that it hadn’t reached the heights that we had anticipated. You can see the devastation that has been caused at 4.6-4.5 metres. I ask you to consider what could have been out there this morning had it been another metre higher or even further which was a possibility earlier this week. So, some people in the city have been spared the heartbreaking devastation of losing their homes and risk and damage to their lives, there are many, many thousands of people out there who have not been spared. So while some people might this morning may be breathing a sigh of relief, I’m not.

    JOURNALIST: A few days ago it was estimated that about 200,000 across Queensland had been affected by the floods. Has that figure increased?

    PREMIER: Oh, absolutely. We now have 70 towns and cities across Queensland that have been affected in some way by this flood. Either because they have been inundated themselves or they have been cut off by major supply lines and isolated for weeks. We now have to add in the 2.5million people who call South East Queensland home to that number. People at the Gold Coast for example may not be directly affected by the flood any of them that had medical appointments in the CBD, they’re cancelled. Any of them that work for corporations affected by this flood will have their lives distrupted. People from the Sunshine Coast who had surgery scheduled, it’s had to be cancelled. These are the sorts of disruptions to lives that are occurring everywhere. I know that people went to friends and family on the Gold and Sunshine coasts. They will be accommodating those friends and family in some cases for weeks. So the effects and ripple effect of this event cannot be underestimated. Major highways, major rail lines, all cut and in Rockhampton’s case it’s still cut by air. Here in the South East as I’ve said, while you may not have been flooded in your own house, the dislocation and the disruption across the capital city and the affect of that on the broader region is having a ripple effect which people I think are now only beginning to understand.

    JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

    PREMIER: I’m hoping to get out and about today but that will depend just a little on what the... my first priority is to be absolutely confident that we have got everything happening that we need on water and electricity. That will be my first priority here this morning and once we’ve got that bedded down a little more than it is now then I will be happy to get out and about.

    JOURNALIST: Are you prepared for what you are about to see in the Lockyer Valley?

    PREMIER: I don’t think anything can really prepare any of us for some of what we might see in the Lockyer Valley. I have spoken to the mayor there on a number of occasions and I am certainly hearing some of the stories that are coming out and I do think that our search and rescue teams have got a very grim task ahead of them today. But when these families go about the business of rebuilding their towns, they may have to rebuild something completely different to what has just been washed away. So I think that we all need to brace ourselves for further difficult news to hear.

    JOURNALIST: Now you said that Goondiwindi is now at threat, as is Condamine, are people being evacuated from those areas where their homes are under threat right now?

    PREMIER: The town of Condamine has been evacuated for the second time in ten days. We are not commencing any evacuations in Goondiwindi yet and I don’t want any panic in Goondiwindi. I’m just trying to give the people of Goondiwindi as much information as we can and to let them know that hydrologists are currently working on formulas to give some predictions. We think at the moment the peak is expected to be at 10.7metres. The levee banks there are eleven metres but they are refining that prediction because that’s not a very big margin of era.