Eleven years after ‘inland tsunami’, Toowoomba businesses clean up after another freak weather event

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When Kristy Fielder arrived at work in the Toowoomba CBD, she found it odd that the garage door wouldn’t open.

It was even stranger when she saw the reason.

“Half a meter of hail in a closed garage, I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

“The garage was a big cold cooler, with all these perfect bits of round hail everywhere.

Dry outside, winter wonderland inside; a hailstorm inside the locked garage met Kristy Fielder when she opened the door this morning.(Provided: Kristy Fielder)

Weekend thunderstorms brought hail and flash flooding to the Garden City, and a busy Sunday for business owners cleaning up the mess.

Residents reported up to 100 millimeters in gauges across the city.

The Bureau of Meteorology reported 43mm and said there was a chance more thunderstorms – with damaging winds and heavy rain – could develop east and south of Toowoomba on Monday.

Toowoomba Waste and Water Councilor Rebecca Vonhoff described the scene as “truly awful”.

a woman shovels leaves into a very full dumpster
Leaf litter and hailstorm debris clogged sewers in Toowoomba CBD.(ABC: Peter Gunders)

“I think that’s the one we’re going to have to bring together as a community.”

A block away, Jo Donaldson was preparing to open her interior design business she had just moved into.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty,” she said.

“We still had many unopened boxes on the floor.

A woman stands in front of a store holding a mop
Jo Donaldson had just moved her shop to the CBD before the freak storm.(ABC: Peter Gunders)

“I woke up at night to thunder and I knew there was not much I could do.

“I received a call to say that the whole showroom had been flooded.

Within minutes of posting an SOS on a community Facebook page, help was at hand.

“People I didn’t even know showed up with buckets and towels,” she said.

“That’s the kind of community we’re dealing with.

Next door, John Rowe knows exactly what “times like these” look like.

His family furniture business has been operating since 1892 and bore the brunt of Toowoomba’s “inner tsunami” in 2011.

A man stands with his hands on his hips in a parking lot of a furniture store
John Rowe’s family has operated their furniture store since 1892. Water has flowed there twice in 11 years.(ABC: Peter Gunders)

“Eleven years and four days ago,” he laughs.

Since the floods of 2011, Toowoomba Regional Council has completed street leveling and flood mitigation works in Russell Street.

‘All that work to let the water out of West Creek worked,’ Mr Rowe explained.

“Historically, water would always rise from the drain at the intersection of Victoria and Russell streets, but that didn’t happen, at least not from the creek.

Damaged roadside garden beds and a fallen speed sign
Russell St had recently undergone street work.(ABC: Peter Gunders)

“What happened was all the chopped leaves from the hailstones blocked the gutters and the water couldn’t escape, so it went everywhere else.”

By his store. Again.

Mr Rowe hopes to open his store much sooner compared to the weeks it took to refurbish the store in 2011.

“We actually had a few customers come in today, and we didn’t turn them away,” he said.

And he stays positive.

“We’ve seen what the worst looks like; eleven years ago we had head-high water in the showroom,” he said.

“Even though we only crossed a few inches today, a little water can go a long way, especially when you have carpet tiles and wooden furniture, but ‘worse’ seems a lot worse!”


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