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Tasmania flood report finds emergency response failures at Latrobe

Tuesday June 6, 2017 - 07:36 EST
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Many houses in Latrobe were inundated by rising floodwaters 12 months ago. - ABC

Local authorities failed to properly respond to last year's flood emergency in Tasmania's north-west, a report has found.



A 75-year-old woman died during the June 2016 flooding at Latrobe, one of the hardest hit areas.

Mary Alford's husband was rescued from the roof of the couple's home but she was not able to be saved. She was one of two confirmed deaths in the north, with a Derwent Valley farmer listed as still missing.

The Government has released a report into the floods

The former auditor-general Mike Blake said emergency management planning and risk management worked well during Launceston's floods.

"This was not the case at Latrobe where we noted that appropriate plans existed but may not have been acted on," he said.

"Contributing to this was the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) flood watch and flood warnings were focused on the north as opposed to the north-west region, resulting in the State Emergency Service (SES) deciding to manage coordination of warnings and responses, including requests for assistance, for both the north and north-west regions, from the Northern Regional Operations Centre."

Mr Blake said forecasting by the BOM was "within the bounds of what could be reasonably expected".

"There may be additional work to do to engage with the community to explain that a forecast can never be relied on as a 100 per cent accurate prediction.

"It is not BOM's role to warn communities of impacts: they only identify forecast river levels and whether predetermined minor, moderate or major triggers have been reached.

"It is the responsibility of local authorities to plan for flood impacts in their areas, including defining triggers for action. It is the responsibility of SES to disseminate community warnings about impacts."

Mr Blake said there was a need for more understanding by emergency authorities on action needed when flood watch warnings were issued. He recommended a flood policy unit be established and flood mapping be reassessed.

BOM 'acknowledge impact on community'

In a statement, BOM did not respond to questions over why its flood watch and flood warnings were focused on the north as opposed to the north-west region, but said it was "constantly seeking to improve and will continue to work with emergency agencies, local councils, and the community to ensure end-to-end warning systems allow the best possible response to future severe weather and flood conditions".

"This was an extreme weather event - in many locations, the highest ever rainfall was recorded - and we acknowledge the impact on the Tasmanian community," it said.



Premier Will Hodgman said the Government would consider the report's 24 recommendations

"While the report finds that the response of the Government, emergency services and the community to the floods was sound, with the benefit of hindsight it's clear there are areas where the must be an improved response," he said.

The report found

In a statement, Hydro CEO Steve Davy said "while the flood review confirms cloud seeding had no impact on rainfall, and therefore the flooding, we acknowledge that our decision to cloud seed on 5 June caused community concern and distress".

'Hindsight a wonderful thing': SES director

SES Tasmania director Andrew Lea said he was "extremely proud of the contribution of all our people, particularly the volunteers".

"There's not one task our volunteers did not do, they went well beyond the call of duty," he said.

"The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing."

Mr Lea said there were aspects of the flood response he could not comment on because of an ongoing coronial investigation, but that he welcomed "any recommendations that come from the coroner's office" and was focusing on the recommendations of Mr Blake's review.

"The community is a key stakeholder in floods and we're wanting the community to share the responsibility in what needs to be done, but before we can do that we need to make the community more aware of the flood risk and empower the community on how they can best act," Mr Lea said.

Latrobe Mayor Peter Freshney agreed not enough emergency personnel were sent to the north-west.

He wants another flood response unit set up in the region.

"With hindsight, we would have been much better off had there been a regional operation centre set up in the north-west. I think that recommendation is appropriate," he said.


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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