PM feels grief in the valley - Grantham


JULIA Gillard has come face to face with the grief and anguish of Queensland's flood-ravaged Lockyer Valley, where grim-faced police are removing the dead from shattered homes and mud-caked paddocks.
As the death toll from the disaster hit 16, mostly in the communities of Grantham and Murphys Creek, farmer Allan Marshall yesterday told the Prime Minister he had lost his father in the ``inland tsunami'' that struck on Monday.
Mr Marshall said he, at least, had the ``closure'' of knowing the fate of his dad, Bruce, 67, of Grantham. He appealed to Ms Gillard, as she toured the disaster zone with Premier Anna Bligh, to release the names of those on the missing list who had been found. Limited as that information was, it would give certainty to some of the worried families. Ms Gillard nodded her head and clasped his arm in a gesture of sympathy. ``I'm sorry,'' she said.
Bruce Allan Marshall, a lifetime farmer, was among six people known to have died in Grantham, which is described as the epicentre of the disaster. Others perished in Toowoomba, the township of Dalby to the west, Ipswich and the outer Brisbane suburb of Goodna.
A source said military, SES and police teams were searching for the bodies of 13 people swept away from Murphys Creek, about 20km northwest of Grantham. This would push the toll towards 30.
Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said some of the dead might never be found beneath the drying mud and debris left in the wake of Monday's flash flood.
State Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said one body was found 80km away from where the person was last seen, highlighting the difficulties search teams faced.
As Ms Gillard and Ms Bligh were hearing of the distress of families, The Weekend Australian encountered white-overall-clad forensic police loading the body of the latest victim to be found, a woman, on to a quad bike trailer about 600m east of the township. Nearby, SES personnel were searching a debris-littered paddock. Ms Bligh said she was shocked by the devastation.
``Nothing compares with what we have seen here. The unbelievable damage looks more like the aftermath of a cyclone, houses picked up and destroyed, farm equipment strewn about,'' Ms Bligh said.
In emotional scenes, survivors of the disaster in Grantham wept as they were hugged and comforted by the two leaders. Some locals told how they were worried their children had lost school uniforms and books ahead of the resumption of classes next week.
Mr Marshall echoed this in his conversation with the Prime Minister. ``We are also concerned that our children will return to school and find that some of their friends are not there, so they will need that explained and will need counsellors and those sort of people to help them cope,'' Mr Marshall said.
Ms Bligh said counsellors would be appointed and added that she would ensure the uniforms issue would be quickly addressed to avoid any further stress for the children, several of whom had to be rescued from rooftops as they sheltered with their parents.
Ms Bligh also gave an assurance the government would treat the rebuilding as a priority.
Grantham's oldest resident, Alf Mischke, 93, told Ms Gillard and Ms Bligh that he had never seen a flood in the district that even approached the severity of last week's catastrophic event.
Before the political leaders arrived, residents were addressed by police Sergeant Howard Glass who revealed that all homes and businesses in Grantham had been thoroughly searched for bodies and it was anticipated that residents would be allowed to return tomorrow.
He said soldiers, emergency service workers and police had used thermal imaging equipment in the search, and thermal imaging cameras had been installed around the town to ensure no unauthorised person moved around the township at night.
Police yesterday afternoon released a statement stating that reports that there had been looting in Grantham were without foundation.
Sergeant Glass said kindergarten teachers would arrive in the next day or so to arrange programs for the many young children who still cannot return to their homes, or whose homes have been destroyed.