Choppers sat idle while wall of water hit Grantham

ARMY helicopters sat unused just minutes away in Oakey while 12 Grantham residents were being swept to their deaths in floodwaters, an inquiry has heard.

Lockyer Valley Regional Council Mayor Steve Jones told the Grantham Floods Commission Inquiry he believed no formal police request had been made for Australian Defence Force helicopters from Oakey to be deployed to Grantham until the day after the wall of water destroyed the town and killed 12 people in 2011.

But the inquiry heard police made a request for two Blackhawk helicopters at 4pm on the day of the flood and heavy fog in Toowoomba had delayed their deployment.

Mr Jones still argued a quick aerial response was essential in a disaster situation when people were facing life and death.

"To me this is an extremely important issue for future events," he said.

"Some of the best aerial assets in the country are right here."

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The mayor told the inquiry Grantham residents were allowed to return to their flooded homes without proper steps being taken to support them emotionally and avoid serious infection from raw sewage backed up in the streets.

He said he had asked police several times to notify him before reopening the ravaged town so council could organise protective equipment and social workers to accompany them.

Several bodies were still missing when police lifted restrictions on entry to the town.

Mr Jones said he was only told about the town's reopening immediately before residents; making organising the safety measures "an impossible task".

He said he was howled down by justifiably emotional locals when he tried to convince them to stay out until proper steps had been taken.

"A little bit of notice would have made a huge difference," he said.

"To just be told to be out at Grantham at nine o'clock that morning, which was essentially what I was told, it made it very difficult for me and council."

The mayor also called for an investigation into whether the area's railway line had locked in water and worsened the flood's effects.

He said aerial photographs showed alluvial soil, which would have once covered the entire valley, had banked up and stalled on one side of the rail line.

"That being the case, the railway line did in fact change the flow of the water, as compared to nature," he said.

"When you look at the whole of the Lockyer Valley we've got a large floodplain with what could be described as a contour bank running across the middle of it."

Mr Jones said proper studies needed to be completed before upgrades or construction began on a proposed inland rail line linking Victoria and New South Wales with Queensland.

"In 1865 (when the existing line was built) if you wanted to take a tree out, it was an axe job," he said.

"Now you've got an excavator, it's a whole lot simpler.

"I think that with modern equipment and with modern work, we can have a look at if can we make it safer."

-APN NEWSDESK


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