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After the deluge: SMBs a year on from the QLD floods

Flood damage at QLD business

One year on, we check to see how the recovery process is going among Queensland small businesses affected by last year’s floods.

Rewind to mid January, 2011 and more than 60 communities across Queensland are affected by devastating floods. Ipswich, Toowoomba, the Lockyer Valley and Brisbane are on the tips of everyone’s tongues as shocking images beam around the country of towns ravaged by the rising waters, taking away lives and livelihoods.

Just over one year on and many are still in the process of rebuilding. But for those who own small businesses, what has it meant to have been closed for part, if not all of 2011? How are small businesses recovering from the massive losses they’ve suffered?

The Waters Rise

Susan Wanmer, of microbusinesses Milton Yoga Studio, Work Life Balance and Susan Wanmer Consultancy, was running a yoga bootcamp on the morning of 11 January, not knowing that the floods that had already hit other Queensland communities would soon affect Brisbane. “My students were joking about how much it was raining,” Wanmer says. “They said they’d bring their buckets when they came in tomorrow.”Susan Wamner - 2011 Qld flood. Tired, fragile, but ok.

At about 3pm, while Wanmer and her students were still in their lesson, Wanmer’s daughter interrupted the class. “At work I don’t have a radio or TV so we didn’t know what was happening. My daughter said ‘mum get your clients out, there’s water in the street’.”

After living through the 1974 floods, Wanmer assessed how long they had to evacuate while her clients packed their cars with items from the business. After everyone left, Wanmer, her husband, daughter and some of her daughter’s friends got to work taking out as much as they could. “By this time the water was about 150 metres from the door and the street was mostly deserted. Surveyors at Suncorp Stadium across the way came and showed me where they predicted the flood peak to be. They thought it would be a foot of water.”

Her family spent the rest of the night preparing, putting things up high and trying to save her large professional library. “Other clients came about one in the morning and helped take things away. I heard later they were stopped by police because someone thought they were looting. They were in their jammies, with their arms full of goodies.”

Prioritising items to be saved in the midst of the panic was the most difficult thing. “My first thought was getting my books out, I didn’t even think about the computer,” Wanmer says.

Bree Robbins, Top Dog at Paddington Pups, a doggy daycare also in Brisbane, had precious cargo to take care of when she heard the floods were coming. “By 11am on Tuesday I made the decision to evacuate. We had 50 dogs on premises plus all my staff. That’s a lot of people and animals that required safety and care,” Robbins explains.

Despite the chaos, Robbins’ emergency action plan worked smoothly. “I have a database management system that allows us to track dogs coming in and out and get in contact with the owners really easily. Had I not had those it could have been a lot worse.

“We managed to evacuate all the dogs and most staff in an hour, which was really great. Then we lifted everything about a metre off the ground thinking that would be fine.”

Surveying the Damage

Despite local predictions that the water wouldn’t rise too much, both Wanmer and Robbins came back to find their businesses had been completely ravaged.Paddington Pups  flood clean-up crew

“The water went to the top of the doorway,” Wanmer explains. “It went halfway up a street sign outside.”

Robbins didn’t fare much better. “The floodwater receded Friday morning. I couldn’t get in because the power was out and the back door was jammed with debris. I had to wait until the café nextdoor came so that I could climb through the hole where their industrial freezer had pushed through our wall.”

The Hon. Jan Jarratt, Minister for Tourism, Manufacturing and Small Business in Queensland, says that one in five businesses temporarily closed as a result of the floods, “due to full or partial water inundation, loss of power or being cut off from their business.” An added 22 percent indicated that the floods had a major to critical impact on their business.

“I had 20 years of work, all of my reference materials, and a lot of very expensive computer programs; we lost everything,” says Amanda Foy, who owns Foyster’s Communications in Ipswich. She was on holidays when she heard that her business would flood. “I rang a friend an hour before the place had seven foot of water in it so she could grab my portable hard drive. That was all I could think of.”

Even more devastating for Foy was that they were completely unable to salvage anything that had been damaged. “We had a sewerage plant just over the road. It also went under so all our stuff was coated in mud and poo. I tried to make light of it; I’d say the universe has coated it in poo so I mustn’t have needed it. It’s interesting though, as soon as you don’t have a printer, notepad or even pens, you realise you take so much for granted.”