How Toowoomba went on after the devastating floods of 2011
EIGHT years ago today, thousands of Toowoomba residents woke to the heartbreaking full impact of the city's worst flood on record.
The tragic deaths of three people in the region the day before were just dawning on most, an evacuation centre was being rapidly set up and Toowoomba was an elevated island.
Roads in each direction were shut, either by landslides, mud-slips or swollen - and deadly - creeks and rivers.
"The events of that fateful summer highlight how a city 700m above sea level cannot underestimate the unstoppable ferocity and sheer unpredictability of nature," Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio said.
The idea that Toowoomba never flooded was swiftly rubbished in the weeks, months and years that followed, and the council embarked on an aggressive flood recovery program and mitigation strategy.
More than one million man-hours were spent upgrading the city's flood infrastructure to safeguard, as best as possible, against a repeat of that horrific day eight years ago.
THE PERFECT STORM
FLOODING first hit the region on December 23, 2010, with the dramatic swiftwater rescue of people stuck in a car near Clifton.
Two days later - on Christmas Day - Cecil Plains was flooded.
The Condamine River reached a record flood level of 11.15m by December 28, while the Millmerran State Emergency Services rescued more people from the flooded Gore Highway on December 30.
Food and medical supplies were air-dropped to Cecil Plains on New Year's Eve.
"In the build-up to this particular event in Toowoomba, all the creeks were full and, for want of a better word, it was a perfect storm," Cr Antonio said.
DAY OF INFAMY
ICONIC images of cars bobbing down East Creek, heroic swiftwater rescues in the heart of the city, Australian Army soldiers air-dropping foods and supplies to the island on the mountain emerged over January 10 and 11.
Lives were lost in the city, at Brymaroo, down the range at Ballard, Murphys Creek, Helidon and Grantham.
More than 100 people were forced from their flooded homes, moving to the evacuation centre at Toowoomba Grammar School by January 11, just as council workers and SES crews begin clearing the early debris.
About 3000 tonnes of damaged household items were eventually collected and dumped as the mammoth clean-up operation continued for the next month.
THE LASTING IMPACT
EVERY Toowoomba resident remembers where they were when the floods hit, such was the magnitude of the disaster.
For those not in town witnessing first-hand the unthinkable, they can recall the exact TV station or news site they learned their home was flooded.
Wet weather events still trigger strong emotions in many, a testament to the impact the astonishing floods had on the city once believed to be immune from inland tsunamis.
"People are mindful of it and on the other side of the coin, in the lead-up to that, people just hadn't seen rain like that," Cr Antonio said.
"This was a very unique event. We can't completely proof ourselves against extreme events but I think we're far better capable now than we have ever been as a result of this."
THE council unapologetically embarked on an aggressive flood recovery and restoration infrastructure phase in the months after the "perfect storm".
The $247 million recovery works, funded by the State and Federal Governments, have helped build material resilience mirroring the fortitude of residents.
Aggressive infrastructure scheme after disaster day
THE Toowoomba Regional Council forged ahead with an aggressive reconstruction and recovery works program Mayor Paul Antonio believes has built resilience into the city's foundations.
It made controversial decisions in the belief critics would see the benefits in time.
It was about safety and future readiness that, should that perfect storm of January 10 and 11, 2011 ever be repeated, the sheer destruction would not be repeated on such a mammoth scale.
"We decided that we would do what has to be done and build detention basins," Cr Antonio said.
"It wasn't an easy journey."
In a city renowned for its parks, gardens and trees, the call to cull old redwoods and install a concrete detention basin didn't sit well with some residents.
That, and other plans, attracted more than 900 submissions from residents.
The council, quite literally, changed the city's water course.
"We had to take some pretty tough decisions around it all," Cr Antonio said.
"First of all, we had to recover and when you look at the flood damage that was done, there was in the order of $247million of flood recovery work and roads damaged."
In the eight years since the floods, the council has continued with its flood mitigation programs.
Along with the detention basins, East and West Creeks were upgraded, and the $4.6 million Charlton North detention basin has been completed.
The creeks' culverts on James St are next, as is the additional works downstream on Gowrie Creek.
Protecting what the council sees as a future economic powerhouse in the Toowoomba Enterprise Hub at Charlton has also been a priority.
"I'm confident the region has vastly improved infrastructure that will offer greater resilience to withstand future flooding," Cr Antonio said.
Early flood warning systems allow for more informed and swifter responses, and rain gauges actively monitor rainfalls in upper catchment areas to better prepare the region.