The Queensland floods inquiry will hear recordings of “distressing” triple-0 phone calls made by Donna Rice and her son Jordan before they perished in Toowoomba.
As the floods commission moved to Toowoomba for the first of its regional hearings today, counsel assisting the inquiry Elizabeth Wilson outlined which issues would be in the spotlight.
Ms Wilson said the inquiry would examine how triple-0 calls were handled, especially when there was an unanticipated spike in emergency calls for assistance.
She said Donna Rice phoned triple-0 on the afternoon of January 10, when her car was swept away during the flash flood that struck during a trip to the bank with two sons.
Ms Wilson said 13-year-old Jordan Rice – who died after asking rescuers to save 10-year-old brother Blake first – rang triple-0 seven minutes after his mother did.
“These calls were recorded and we will play these calls,” she said.
Ms Wilson said Senior Constable Jason Wheeler, who took one of the calls, would be called to give evidence and be questioned over his handling of the matter.
She said the inquiry would also view video footage that “so graphically demonstrates the magnitude of the events we're dealing with” and hear “stories of great sadness”.
“We will also hear if they wish from the relatives of those who died. This is an important part of this inquiry's process,” she said.
The January 10 deluge caused flash flooding in Toowoomba and sent a wall of water down the Lockyer Valley, killing 22 people, including 10 in Grantham.
Ms Wilson said the inquiry would examine whether councils were best placed to take the lead role in responding to catastrophic disasters.
She said the commission would look at how different levels of government and agencies dealt with disasters under disaster management laws setting out responsibilities.
While the act had been in place since 2003, significant amendments were brought into effect on November 1 last year, meaning the recent summer had been a “true test of disaster management”.
“So this past wet season was the first time these changes were practically implemented across the state,” Ms Wilson said.
She said the disaster management act gave councils chief responsibility for responding to disasters, but the act did not distinguish between the size of councils.
Questions had been raised about the adequacy of the Lockyer Valley Regional Council's response to the flooding that swept through the region after the January 10 downpour, Ms Wilson said.
“Broader questions arise ... as to the ability of local governments to management of disasters when they occur on a large catastrophic scale,” she said.
Ms Wilson said residents west of Toowoomba had also raised concern that the state government's amalgamation of smaller councils into larger local governments had impeded communications.
She said there were suggestions that from January 9 to 11 communications and warnings to smaller communities were “lacking” due to the change in local government geographical focus.
Ms Wilson said the commission, which will sit in Toowoomba for five days of the next two weeks, would also question Bureau of Meteorology Queensland regional director Jim Davidson about the adequacy of early weather warnings.
“It is of note that bloggers ... predicted that Grantham would be hit by flash flooding some time before the event,” she said.
“The question also remains what do we do with that information and what early warning systems can be implemented.”
The inquiry will also hear evidence about poor communication between different government agencies surrounding missing people. It will also examine evacuation centre problems.
The $15 million inquiry, headed by Court of Appeal judge Catherine Holmes, is due to complete an interim report on flood preparedness issues by August 1.