PM, Premier inspect flood damage
LUNCHTIME yesterday and one of the last planes out of Rockhampton was almost gone, carrying Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Premier Anna Bligh up and over a burgeoning disaster.
A little less than two hours had been spent by the pair on Rockhampton soil and while an offer of immediate relief for families who had lost – or will lose – everything was put forward by the Federal Government; no extra money above the $1 million already allocated was discussed for the disaster relief fund.
As the river slowly but unrelentingly crept up, the power pollies converged with a crew of security and press wranglers in tow at the Rockhampton Regional Council City Hall and received a briefing on how authorities were preparing the city and outlying isolated communities for the predicted flood peak of 9.4m tomorrow.
Inside the hall the disaster management crew was assembled around a table, with the dignitaries taking a seat at the head of the table either side of Rockhampton Regional Mayor Brad Carter.
Police inspector David Peff, along with Cr Carter and MP Robert Schwarten, gave the Ms Gillard a rundown, a broad picture of the huge organisational aspects of coping with the unfolding disaster. Ms Gillard asked few questions.
Inspector Peff told the PM, who had surveyed the flood havoc in Bundaberg yesterday, then flown over Emerald to grab a bird's-eye view of the Central Highlands disaster situation, that 1260 people had been evacuated from the waterlogged town, that Blackwater was isolated, and that Emerald Coles and Woolworths were both inundated.
Cr Carter spoke of the “innovative transport solutions” canvassed to deliver necessities such as food and fuel, with the city expected to be isolated to the south and west sometime today. These included options such as barges and sea transports from the north.
“How's the community feeling?” Ms Gillard asked of Rockhampton, to be told by MP Schwarten that many in the city had been case-hardened to the prospect of flooding. But the havoc this mass of water could wreak was starting to sink in, without the panic. The community was pulling together, he said.
Premier Anna Bligh noted that with significant corporate donations, the tally for the relief fund stood at $7.3 million “That's just the extras,” she noted, acknowledging the damage bills for dozens of disaster-declared local government areas would rest in the billions.
Ms Gillard thanked the Local Disaster Management Committee for their massive efforts so far and pre-emptively thanked them for the efforts they would put in over the next few weeks, and thanked the Premier and the Mayor, who in turn thanked the Federal Government for its input.
Outside, to a mini-press pack, Ms Gillard announced a payment of $1000 per adult and $400 per child for those who had lost or sustained serious damage to their homes.
“It's just one way we want to help,” she said.
When questioned about the government's financial commitment to helping families and businesses ruined by the water to get back on their feet again, she didn't list figures. She said they would look at providing funds through community recovery programs, assistance to farmers and businesses that had suffered and further family payments.
Ms Gillard said it was a difficult situation to assess until the scale of the loss was revealed.
And then, as quickly as they arrived, they rejoined the motorcade. They drove past the Fitzroy River, but did not stop. They then headed to the airport.