Invoices land for Australia’s biggest natural disaster

Monday, January 17, 2011

SYDNEY - At Brisbane’s flooded waterfront Boardwalk Bar & Bistro, more than 2,000 bottles of top-shelf wine are ready to go out with the rubbish.

“It’s just too much of a risk,” proprietor Grant Johnston said of his prized cellar. “We’ve washed them down but underneath any of the caps, there could be anything.”

Johnston’s is one of thousands of Queensland businesses taking a huge financial hit from the state’s worst flooding in a generation.

An estimated 17,000 homes and 3,000 businesses were either fully or partially swamped.

The murky waters engulfing Australia’s third-largest city got to the lathes and welding equipment at 57-year-old Jatish Puran’s metalworking business.

“Unfortunately, we’ve just found out that our insurance doesn’t cover this area because of flooding, so most of the people say ‘well, maybe, we might call it quits,’ you know,” Puran told national broadcaster ABC.

Even those with little to lose were not passed over. Residents of Gailes Caravan Village lost their homes when the floodwaters tumbled them helter-skelter.

“I didn’t have that much to begin with and now I’ve got nothing,” motor mechanic Josey Denman, 57, told The Australian newspaper after his caravan was crumpled. “Still, other people are worse off than me.”

The damage bill has been estimated at up to 20 billion Australian dollars ($19 billion). That is not counting lost production from swamped mines and farms and the big financial blow to hotels and tour operators from cancelled holiday bookings.

“It looks like this is going to be, in economic terms, the largest natural disaster in our history,” Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan said. “It will involve billions of dollars of (federal) money and also state government money and there are going to be impacts on local governments as well.”

Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman is warning the city’s 2 million residents that the ferry services will be out for months because terminals were washed away with the deluge.

Each terminal cost 3 million Australian dollars and eight of them need replacing. Local taxes will need to rise to meet that.

Premier Anna Bligh has warned her fellow Queenslanders that the mud coating much of the state capital only obscures the immensity of the disaster.

“Getting the house clean is only step one in the many, many, many steps of recovery and a real journey,” she said. “I do think we all have to prepare ourselves, however, for the real possibility and likelihood that after all that effort, we may well all start to, I guess, feel a bit of a downer as we look around and really the reality of it hits us.”

Queensland represents 20 percent of Australia’s economic output and two-thirds of the state has been inundated.

Some businesses will take months or years to fully recover; some will not survive the hammering they have received. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland said businesses would go under.

“There are really some shattering stories coming out of it,” chamber president David Goodwin said. “For many, they will struggle to recover, and some unfortunately, I don’t think will.”

International market research firm IBISWorld has flagged huge losses. “We expect significant lost productivity in the short term, with work currently stopped on approximately 5-billion-Australian dollars-worth of commercial projects,” a report to clients stated.

Federal Employment Minister Chris Evans reasoned that all the repair work and making up for lost production will be a commercial bonanza.

“Longer term, clearly there’s going to be growth in work associated with the recovery,” he said.

But growth will be a while coming and will be patchy.

Brisbane real estate agents, for example, expect house prices in low-lying areas to fall while rents rise because of a shortage of accommodation.

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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