Grantham residents return to stench of death
By: Sarah Elks, ADDITIONAL REPORTING: TONY KOCH, AMOS AIKMAN, AMANDA GEARING
RESIDENTS of the tiny Lockyer Valley township of Grantham returned to their destroyed homes for the first time yesterday, in a town that smelt like death.
Locals wept in despair as they walked through their gutted houses for the first time since flash flooding tore through the Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane, sweeping away whole families.
Since then, the death toll has risen to 20 in southeast Queensland, with 12 people still missing.
Military helicopters buzzed overhead and police divers continued to search for bodies in the creek that cuts the town in two, as a slow convoy of dusty cars and trucks made the grim journey.
Before they entered the devastated part of the village, residents were warned at least five people were still missing from Murphys Creek upstream and Grantham itself, despite thorough searches.
They were told to stay away from anything that looked or smelled of concern, and to immediately contact police.
For many locals though, the entire town reeked: a pungent mixture of rotting food, rubbish and great piles of mud and silt.
Wendy Smith, who yesterday discovered her home had been reduced to rubble, described the stench simply. ``It smelt like death, the whole town smelt like that, like death,'' she said.
A week earlier, Ms Smith and her partner, Lee Sheppard, narrowly escaped the flash flood.
The torrent swept their entire house from its supports, and the pair had to wait on the roof for hours before they were rescued.
Yesterday, Ms Smith was able only to salvage a few family photographs, covered in mud, from the wreckage of her home.
Most heartbreaking was seeing her best friend's home. Josh Ross, his mother, Brenda Ross, and her partner Chris Face lived across the road from Ms Smith. They are all missing. ``I cried when I saw Josh's place,'' she said. ``I just broke down. I didn't eat or sleep for the first couple of days.''
The upper side of Grantham was almost untouched by the flood. Its residents have mostly been able to stay in their homes, where many have given shelter to those left homeless.
Some residents were angry that they were not let into their homes sooner, frustrated that police and military searchers, as well as the media, were allowed to survey the damage before they were.
Mayor Steve Jones said he wasn't told until yesterday morning that residents would be allowed back that day.
``If we had more notice we would have had more support for people when they go in, so they don't go in alone'' without support and counsellors, Mr Jones said.
Long-time Grantham local Frances Arndt, 64, said returning to her devastated neighbourhood and destroyed home was ``heartbreaking''. ``We expected the worst, but when you get to finally see it, the reality just sinks in.
``Even though our house is still standing, there are no steps left, part of the walls have sort of gone, it's all sunken, and water's all through the house.''
She and her husband Kenley, 72, narrowly escaped the rapidly rising water.