Year of production2011
Broadcast and production partnersNational Geographic Television
In early 2011, the Australian state of Queensland is hit by floods on a scale of biblical proportions. A freak inland tsunami smashes through towns and cities bringing widespread destruction and claiming lives. Then cyclones batter the coastline wreaking even further devastation. This is the story of Australia’s greatest flood, caught on camera by those who lived through it.
2011 has been a year of unprecedented natural disasters, from the killer tsunami in Japan to earthquakes in Christchurch and tornadoes in USA. But it all began in Australia, when weeks of torrential rain and cyclones battered much of the country.
After a decade of crippling droughts, Australia’s climate switched to La Nina and by early January an area the size of Texas was underwater. On January 10th, a one in a 100-year super storm sweeps through the rural city of Toowoomba. Cars are carried away like matchboxes and unlucky pedestrians cling to trees and power poles to survive. The storm intensifies and the flash flood turns into a 25-foot inland tsunami that races through a river valley wiping out small towns and destroying everything in its path.
Terrified locals pick up their cameras and film Mother Nature’s fury. Charlotte Bull records her family’s terror as a raging torrent sucks worldly possessions from their home. Leeroy Sheppard films his house falling apart as his terrified family watch in horror as the walls collapse. Nearby Lance Richardson tries to console his son as his hotel disintegrates around them. Marty Warburton climbs onto the roof of his submerged gas station and amazingly continues to film the unfolding drama around him. People cling to rooftops, houses are washed away and cars float past with people trapped inside or riding on top unable to escape the deadly floodwaters. By day’s end 22 people are dead and 3 bodies will never be found.
The next day the deadly floodwaters are headed for Australia’s third largest city. Winding through Brisbane’s centre is the mighty Brisbane River. Its position makes the city highly vulnerable to floods. Brisbane’s nearly two million residents have 48 hours to prepare. Brisbane’s last major flood was in 1974 – also a La Nina year. It claimed 14 lives and is still vivid in many Queenslander’s minds. But for the city’s You Tube generation the floods is an opportunity to share their experiences with world. Masses watch the wrath of the Brisbane River as it mangles boats, pontoons and even restaurants.
As the waters recede, a call for volunteers goes out on social networking sites. 50,000 people respond, helping the city get back on her feet.
But it’s not over yet. La Nina is now stalking a 700 kilometre stretch of coastline – alongside the world famous Great Barrier Reef. Cyclone Yasi’s core is over 500 kilometres wide and surpasses the strength of the hurricane that destroyed New Orleans in 2005. As 30,000 residents evacuate and thousands more tourists flee south, storm chasers flock north, into the eye of the storm. In spite of being the most powerful cyclone that Australia has seen in over 100 years, miraculously, only one life is lost. The clean up bill is $5.66 billion.
Australia’s season of wild weather, powered by La Nina, does not let up. Flash flooding continues to engulf major cities. Dry inland rivers overflow and for those in the path of the inland tsunami their lives are forever changed.
‘You’d honestly think it was a tall yarn. Even being through it, you seen it, you touched it, you tasted it, you felt it but the brain’s saying ‘no that couldn’t have happened’. MARTY WARBURTON.
In some ways I thought ‘oh well if I do die, hopefully it can be recovered off the phone’. You know no matter what happens I just wanted proof of this. CHARLOTTE BULL.
Associate ProducerJosephine Wright
WritersMandy Chang, Sally Ingleton, Sara Tiefenbrun
EditorsSimon Wright, Rob Buttery
Assistant EditorRyan Howard
Sound DesignTristan Meredith
Executive ProducerRobert Zakin, National Geographic Television
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AwardedMost Outstanding Documentary, Australian ASTRA Awards, 2012