18 December 2023

FORGOTTEN: Far North Queensland let down when help was most needed

| Matt Nicholls
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The Australian Army helped the NSW community of Lismore with the clean-up after its floods in 2022. The Australian government was criticised for not deploying them earlier for evacuations. ADF support is needed in the Far North now.

Heads must roll.

Far North Queenslanders are a hardy bunch, but we have been completely let down in the wake of ex-Tropical Cyclone Jasper, which has caused devastation across the region.

For starters, how did the Bureau of Meteorology get it so wrong? We were prepared for a cyclone – overprepared in fact.

But no one told us that a tropical low would sit on the east coast for days on end after it made landfall, dumping biblical rains in the space of 72 hours.

Maybe it’s because the Bureau of Meteorology has been stripped of all resources on the ground. Observers and forecasters who used to live in communities across regional Queensland are no longer there. Instead, the bulk of the work is done out of Canberra and Brisbane.

But even with bad intel to work off, there have been many failings.

In Cairns, for example, text message alerts have been confusing and, at times, inappropriate for the level of urgency required. This has worked both ways. Alerts went out early in the week when there were no concerns, then they went out too late when people needed to be evacuated.

Many ignored the texts because they had previously been inaccurate.

Hundreds of people are going to be homeless as a result of this weather event and right now, in the early hours of Monday morning, people are stuck on their roofs in the northern beaches of Cairns, around Mossman, and in Wujal Wujal.

A landslide on the Rex Range. Huge chunks of the Far North have been devastated by flooding and rain damage.

The Australian Defence Force has been notified of the situation and is on standby, but they haven’t been given the green light to go in and help rescue people.

Why not?

The army and navy should have been deployed on Sunday morning to assist with any job required to help an overstretched SES and QFES, which has received thousands of calls for assistance.

There have been no fatalities reported thus far, but it seems unfathomable that there won’t be casualties from this weather event.

READ ALSO GET THEM OUT NOW: Wujal Wujal facing an emergency after river breaks banks

How many could have been avoided if people had been evacuated earlier and provided the means to get out?

In Wujal Wujal, people are calling in tears, fearing for their lives. They can’t leave their roof because crocodiles are lurking in the water.

And what about the media? They couldn’t get here fast enough on Tuesday when Cyclone Jasper threatened. We had over-the-top coverage from all the networks, with TV reporters standing in the rain telling us that disaster was pending.

The Cairns Airport was shut on Sunday after flooding from the Barron River impacted runways and terminals.

Well, they were wrong and they were right. When Jasper crossed he did very little damage. But disaster has struck the Far North.

Queensland Police Service also needs some scrutiny. It provided awesome support to the Cape and smaller communities when Jasper was making landfall, but have been MIA since.

Cooktown has been overloaded with additional officers, but people are still driving through floodwater. Why aren’t patrol cars out there, turning people around?

Then there is Wujal Wujal.

The local police station had additional resources, but they left after Jasper. The two local officers then made a “quick run” to get supplies when the creeks came down, but got caught on the other side. Now Wujal Wujal has no police in what is a legitimate emergency.

Luckily, the locals are aware and are rallying together.

The list of the failings goes on but many people deserve praise and thanks.

Cape York Weekly will bring you those stories, and uncover more of the failings, throughout the coming days and weeks.

Our thoughts are with those families doing it tough right now.

Australian Army soldiers work with SES volunteers in a Bushmaster protected mobility vehicle while on standby to conduct evacuation tasks in Lismore, New South Wales, as part of Operation Flood Assist 2022.

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