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Central West Queensland

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8 April, 2021

Failed warning sparks mixed emotions

GEMFIELD residents are frustrated after a new warning system, meant to alert them to rising floodwaters, failed last week.

By Paul Albert

Sheep Station Creek broke its banks in the recent flooding across the Gemfields. PHOTO: Lisa Crumb

GEMFIELD residents are frustrated after a new warning system, meant to alert them to rising floodwaters, failed last week. 

Over 250mm of rain fell on the district last Wednesday night, causing water levels to rise rapidly, requiring urgent evacuation of Gemfields residents; however, for some, it was too late to save anything. 

Sapphire resident Phil Henricks said he only had minutes to get his animals into the car and assist his struggling neighbour before the floodwaters became too high. 

“I’ll tell you what, if that alarm would have went off it would have solved… [well] I came out with a dog, a cat and a pair of shorts,” he said. 

A $300,000 early warning system was installed in Sapphire and on Graves Hill last year, however, the sirens failed to sound. 

“It is a true fact that if that alarm would have went off and given us a bit of warning, we would have been able to save a lot more gear. And personal stuff. All your photos. Stuff you won’t get back,” he said. 

Central Highlands Regional Council Mayor Kerry Hayes confirmed that sirens – which are manually operated – were not activated. 

“Due to the rapid nature of the rainfall, the window in which the sirens could have been activated was small,” he said. 

“By the time information was received from gauges in the catchment area, the river was already close to peaking.” 

Cr Hayes said an emergency SMS alert was issued to local residents by the Bureau of Meteorology and emergency services were already on the scene. 

“The decision was therefore made not to activate the sirens so as not to cause further confusion,” he said. 

However, Mr Henricks said it was not good enough. 

“They wasted [money] on stuff that didn’t work,” he said. 

“They relied on it to let us know. It failed. 

“They’re lucky no one died.” 

Meanwhile, Gemfields resident Rachel Jade James said locals should stop looking at the negatives and instead appreciate what the floods bring. 

“We are in one of the most incredibly blessed places on Earth here,” she said. 

“Even when flooded out, [most of us] live for it and love it. 

“It brings us together and it makes our environment come back to life. 

“Our tanks and dams are full again, and sapphires are popping out of the ground... it brings unity.” 

Visit the council’s emergency management dashboard ( for up-to-date information.  

For SES assistance, call 132 500. 

For Central Highlands Regional Council assistance 24/7, call 1300 242 686.

In the event of an emergency, call triple zero. 

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