A young woman searches through the rubble where her family home used to be.
A young woman searches through the rubble where her family home used to be. Supplied

Grantham residents return home

THE agony continued for Grantham residents yesterday as they began the tough task of salvaging what personal possessions they could from their homes and businesses.

Hundreds of residents and volunteers armed with face masks, gloves and gumboots came prepared for the gruelling cleaning task that awaited.

For several it was the first time they were able to return to their homes to clean up the mess caused by a flash flood that left the tight-knit community in ruins on January 10.

Among the heartache were small blessings, with resident Bronwen Baxter elated to find her partner’s pet cat Squeak still alive, nine days after the floodwater destroyed their home.

Only the shell of Ms Baxter’s home remains.“We’ve lost everything, but Squeak is still alive. It’s a real surprise. I don’t know how he survived,” Ms Baxter said.

For resident Allan Marshall who lost his father in the flash flood, recovering a sentimental engraved watch from his home was a blessing.

“I’m so glad I found this. It’s waterproof so it still works too,” Mr Marshall said.

Tears flowed as residents became overwhelmed with the horrific scenes of their once-thriving community, many reliving terrifying moments when they scrambled for safety.

Twenty people have died in the devastating disaster, and of those, some people still have not been positively identified.

The entire town reeks of rotten food combined with rubbish and large piles of silt and mud. Residents have been left to filter through the rubble in search of personal possessions.

Police began a staggered return of residents to Grantham at midday Tuesday but, at the request of residents, the community has been closed to outsiders, including media, for a week.

One resident described the scene inside the Grantham township as a “place of heartache and devastation”.

“This has been our home town for years, but now it’s the place where for some of us, our family, friends and neighbours have died,” the woman said.

Confronted with the realisation that many of her friends would never return, the woman whose home had been reduced to rubble said she had not yet decided if she would feel comfortable rebuilding in the town.

“It’s an awful feeling, but I just feel sick to my stomach. I don’t’ know if I could handle ever going through the possibility that something like this could happen again,” she said.

For those who want to salvage their homes or rebuild, they fear it could be several years before the town returns to “normality”, with 10 per cent of the homes considered inhabitable.

Grantham business owner Marty Warburton said he was ready to return to his business, Marnell Fuels, which he has owned and operated with his wife Janelle for the past 18 years.

“We are definitely filled with mixed emotions. It’s a dead-set mess in there and it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get back to what it was, that’s for sure,” Mr Warburton said.

“We aren’t going to go anywhere though. This is my home community and we are determined to rebuild.

“If business people leave it won’t give residents any faith in the community or encourage them to stay and rebuild too. We have to support each other to get through this.”

Residents were told prior to returning to their homes that there will be a 24-hour police presence in the town for a minimum of four weeks as police, assisted by the military, continue to search the paddocks and land around the township for bodies before they move east from Grantham to the Brisbane River.

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