Renewed calls for Bundaberg flood evacuation route on 10th anniversary of Cyclone Oswald

| 24.01,23. 12:29 PM |

Renewed calls for Bundaberg flood evacuation route on 10th anniversary of Cyclone Oswald


An SES volunteer walks a small boat through the floodwaters at the Kennedy Bridge in Bundaberg.
The January 2013 flood sparked the largest emergency evacuation in Queensland's history.(ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marsellos)

Ten years since ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald pounded the Queensland coast and left a trail of destruction and flooding, one regional town is still trying to improve its evacuation plan for thousands of residents.

Oswald drenched South-East Queensland with more than 1,000 millimetres of rain in just four days in January 2013, leading to record-breaking floods in Bundaberg as the Burnett River peaked at a record 9.53 metres.

About 5,000 Bundaberg residents were forced to leave their homes and more than 1,000 people were rescued by helicopter, which at the time was the largest evacuation effort during peacetime in Australia.

LNP federal member for Hinkler Keith Pitt has on the anniversary of the event renewed calls for a faster evacuation route for Bundaberg's northern suburbs, which the community identified as a key priority in 2018.

Floodwaters cover the southern Queensland city of Bundaberg in the wake of ex-tropical cyclone Oswald, January 29, 2013.
The Burnett River peaked at a record 9.53 metres in January 2013.(Supplied: John McDermott)

"It's been 10 years since a very serious emergency event here in Bundaberg … and yet we still see no action from [the state government]," he said.

"The idea that some 10,000 people on the north side of Bundaberg do not get the opportunity to evacuate through the quickest route is appalling."

Residents evacuate from Bundaberg North.
More than 1,000 residents were rescued from their rooftops in the January 2013 flood.(Supplied: Ian Hatton)

Coming up with a plan

Authorities have been working to solve the issue since 2017 when the Bundaberg Flood Action plan was launched.

The plan included four flood mitigation projects, including the North Bundaberg Evacuation Route and East Flood Levee.

The entire project could cost more than $100 million.

The Queensland government allocated $4 million in 2017 and committed half the funding to build the levee in October 2020.

Photo of two middle-aged white men standing in front of a bridge, surrounded by green trees.
Stephen Bennett and Keith Pitt renewed calls for flood mitigation projects proposed in 2017.(ABC Wide Bay: Audrey Courty)

State LNP member for Burnett Stephen Bennett joined Mr Pitt in calling for federal funding towards the flood mitigation projects.

He said last month's flooding event in Mackay, about 600 kilometres north of Bundaberg, was an unpleasant reminder of the "real and present danger" of weather disasters.

"That could have been us," Mr Bennett said.

"The community deserves so much more from all levels of government to make sure that the mitigation projects become a reality."

No timeline for new design

State Labor member for Bundaberg Tom Smith said the development of a revised, faster evacuation route was still a priority but he did not provide a timeline for when the project would be delivered by his government.

"Early designs of the evacuation route showed that there was some alarm around the amount of flooding that could be impacted back upon residents that lived upstream of the evacuation route that was proposed," he said.

"So what we need to do now is make sure that there's greater level of detail, not only for the costing, but also to make sure any evacuation route will keep people safe during a flood event."

A house inundated by floodwater with palm tree in background
The planned Northern Evacuation Route would give 10,000 residents more time to get to safety.(Twitter: Greg Nelson)

Mr Smith said the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads was in discussion with the federal government to secure funding for the project, which he estimated would cost more than $110 million.

He said the state government was also seeking a co-funding agreement with the federal government for the proposed levee, which aimed to mitigate flooding for more than 600 properties in Bundaberg's eastern suburbs.

"I'm very confident that [the federal government] will provide the money that we need to ensure that we can deliver mitigation and evacuation for the good people of Bundaberg," Mr Smith said.

The Federal Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt said the department would continue to work with the state government on finding a solution.

"We know how important flood mitigation is to the local community and are committed to working with Tom Smith and the state government to improve Bundaberg's resilience to flooding and natural disasters," he said.

"We will keep working cooperatively with the state government and the local community to deliver the best possible solution."

Australian Army in Bundaberg for the flood clean up.
Tom Smith says the 2013 flood highlighted the resilience of the Bundaberg community.(ABC Local: Caitlyn Gribbin)

'Nothing knocks this town down'

Mr Smith said 10 years on from Bundaberg's worst flood disaster was a time for reflection and remembering the town's resilience.

"What we should be focusing on … is the outstanding work of volunteers, the outstanding work of disaster management services, and also remembering the challenging times that so many people faced," he said.

"Nothing knocks this town down and nothing knocks the people down.

"They roll up their sleeves, they get out there and they help people."




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