The roads of Eton were totally submerged in the flooding after Cyclone Debbie.
The roads of Eton were totally submerged in the flooding after Cyclone Debbie. Mitchell Cole

Why did Kinchant Dam release during Cyclone Debbie?

DRAPERS Siding resident Fran Stebbeings was making a cup of coffee and some breakfast the morning after Cyclone Debbie crossed the Whitsunday coast.

Mackay mayor Greg Williamson was on the television in the lounge room, telling viewers that the region had 'dodged a bullet'.

Little did she know that four hours later she would be trapped in her home, near Eton, with no connection to the outside world and water surging through her home.

"I took a photo of the creek at 7am and the creek was up just like it always was," she said. "I took a photo at 8.45am of the creek and it wasn't any different."

Ms Stebbeings then left the house about 10am to visit her mother's property. Her mother's home usually got inundated in floods.

She told her brother, who was staying with their mother, to move the car to a section of the road that was above the 'usual' flood level.

All the residents were used to flooding, so already there were a few cars parked at the end of Clarke St, where the ground was a little higher.

Ms Stebbeings only realised there was something different about this flood when she walked from her mother's house to the Peak Downs Hwy, about 300m away.

Perry Creek was flooded and had cut the road, but that was not unusual, what looked strange was that the water was moving in a different direction.

"When I walked out to the highway about 10am I realised something was wrong," she said.

"I turned around back in the direction of our street and I noticed water pouring out of it."

Less than an hour later Ms Stebbeings was trapped in the family home as water poured past the doors.

That Wednesday morning, dozens of people were trapped in their homes, with no connection to the outside world. No one had received the alert from SunWater that afternoon, recommending that people living along Sandy Creek self-evacuate "if they can". Most couldn't.

The dam was at 120% of capacity and water was pouring over the spillway.

On Thursday about 30 residents had to be evacuated from Drapers Siding, including Ms Stebbeings' mother.

There were many lucky escapes told from the people evacuated.

Eton resident Thelma Lette has to slide on her stomach to escape as floodwater started inundating her home.

She was lucky to reach a boat that was just outside the house. In Homebush, some residents described it as a wall of water.

Eton North.
Eton North. Kate Kyriacou?

Ms Stebbeings has been waiting for months for answers about the release of water from the dam and the communication that residents were afforded.

"What's flood mitigation if it's not operational releases?" she said.

"There are a lot of stories. The truth is... I hope I'm never put in that situation again. "We had no idea what was happening. They should have at least door-knocked Drapers Siding.

"We were in a dam of water, in a 4km radius there was just water."

Not knowing what was going on had been terrifying, Ms Stebbeings said.

"People say, 'oh you are really lucky the dam didn't burst', but (if that had happened) we would have been in no worse position because we would have no idea what's going on anyway.

"Yes, we're not dead, but you're just as helpless."

The whole experience has changed the community, with the people who live along Sandy Creek now worried about releases from the dam, and large rain events.

The incident led to an investigation by the Office of the Queensland Chief Scientist as to whether water from Kinchant Dam contributed to the flooding of communities along Sandy Creek.

The details of that report were released yesterday.

According to the report, the flood was not caused by outflows from Kinchant Dam, and it was not designed to prevent flooding considering the amount of rainfall in the region in the three-day rain event.

"Whilst not designed as a flood mitigation dam, Kinchant Dam, by virtue of its design (two main outlet structures which incorporate an 'informal' flood storage) does achieve some attenuation of peak flood inflows at the dam," the report stated.

"However, both the capacity of the dam and its location in the catchment mean it has insignificant impact on peak flood flows at the Homebush gauge."

The report also noted that SunWater acted in accordance with its Kinchant Dam Emergency Plan, but had some suggestions to improve communication.

"We suggest that options for delivery of information that is locally-targeted, with emphasis on resilience of technology, are implemented," the chief scientist Professor Suzanne Miller said.

"Clarity and consistency of messaging should be a priority (with some improvements already noted eg. terminology relating to dam operating levels)."

The results of the investigation are unlikely to appease the residents who live along Sandy Creek who want to know why dam levels remained so high in the days before TC Debbie was to cross the coast, and why no one came to warn them about amount of water coming over the spillway.

Some have still not returned to their homes, three months after the flooding at Sandy Creek.

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