GPs band together to help as Townsville floods cause widespread devastation

Matt Woodley

6/02/2019 4:10:06 PM

Scores of GPs have coordinated their own response to the devastating floods, providing vital care to a city inundated with a year’s worth of rain in a little over a week.

Townsville had recorded 1134 millimetres in just nine days. (Image: Andrew Rankin)
Townsville had recorded 1134 millimetres in just nine days. (Image: Andrew Rankin)

The freak downpour has been so severe that by 9.00 am Monday morning, Townsville had recorded 1134 millimetres in just nine days – the single largest rainfall event ever recorded in the area.
North Queensland’s Generalist Medical Training centre is based in the regional city – parts of which are still underwater – meaning nearly 400 GPs could potentially have been impacted in some way. To date, at least 2000 homes have been damaged by rain or floodwaters, and at least 9000 homes have been without power since the weekend.
The widespread devastation has prevented authorities from organising the scores of GPs who volunteered to assist at evacuation centres after the worst of the rain hit on Sunday night.
Dr Kenny Clark told newsGP  Townsville’s disaster relief centre was so overwhelmed by Monday morning that they directed volunteers to ‘go anywhere’, meaning the city’s GPs had to quickly coordinate among themselves.
Within roughly two hours an ad hoc Facebook thread had attracted about 60 comments from GPs volunteering to go wherever they were needed.
‘We woke up on Sunday morning to just devastation, really,’ Dr Clark told newsGP.
‘The anxiety really went up because we started getting warning text messages every hour telling us to evacuate to higher ground.
‘We just knew whole suburbs were underwater and that lots of people would have lost everything.’
In less than a few hours the GPs efforts had ensured they were spread all over the city, doing whatever they could with the little resources they had to provide hundreds of desperate people with much needed care.
‘Before we went to one of the evacuation centres, myself and another GP, Aimee Smith, went to my clinic and just grabbed everything that we thought would be useful,’ Dr Clark said.
‘When we turned up there was just a queue off around 60 people, waiting for medications, mainly ... a lot of the problems were diabetics left at home without insulin, so we were giving them insulin from our samples, writing scripts.
‘A few people needed essential medications for anxiety and antipsychotics. There was a lot of patients suffering from chronic conditions.
‘We were sat across from a supply table and there were women going up and grabbing baby food, kids grabbing clothes and trying on old lady shoes just to have shoes on – these folk literally just had the clothes on their back.’

L–R: GPs Dr Kenny Clark and Dr Aimee Smith have been putting in 14-hour shifts at disaster centres or unaffected GP clinics since the Townsville floods started.

Since the disaster started, Dr Clark and his colleagues have been putting in 14-hour shifts at disaster centres or unaffected GP clinics, or assisting friends and relatives. He is one of the fortunate residents whose house has not been impacted by floodwaters, but his parents’ home has been destroyed and it could be days or even weeks until they’re able to survey the damage.
Fortunately, Dr Clark’s practice also narrowly avoided joining the thousands of buildings swamped by unprecedented flash floods.
‘I went to see it on Sunday morning and miraculously the water stopped five metres short of the walls. If it had been 10 centimetres higher our clinic would be completely ruined,’ he said.
‘I usually keep calm, but Saturday night there was a lot of anxiety because there was a news report from a car park 400 metres down from where my clinic is – it looked like he was standing on a boat, and there were just waves behind him and I thought our clinic had been completely destroyed.
‘We dodged an absolute bullet.’
Another GP who hasn’t been as lucky is RACGP Queensland Deputy Chair Dr Michael Clements, whose home and business have both been impacted by the disaster.
The long-time Townsville resident told newsGP the wild weather has been ‘harrowing’ and ‘10 times worse’ than anything he had seen in the area before – including 2011’s Tropical Cyclone Yasi.
‘The council sent out a lot of warnings, but none of us really believed it would get this high. We’re well above the 100-year flood level,’ Dr Clements said.
‘We had 17 people in our house on the flood night.
‘Water came within a couple of centimetres of our main floor and we almost had to move up to our second floor, but every single house around us has been flooded, it’s horrible.’

Michael-Clements-Article.jpgDr Michael Clements’ neighbours were evacuated after having to seek refuge from encroaching floodwaters.
While flooding at Dr Clements’ home was restricted to his garage and front yard, one of his two practices – which only opened a month before the flood hit – has been heavily damaged.
‘[It’s] knee-deep in water and we don’t know when we’re going to be able to get back online again,’ Dr Clements said.
‘They say it’s still thick with putrid, contaminated water. We’ve seen excrement floating around, there are crocs in the water, so we don’t know – it might be days or even a week before we’re allowed back in to the main practice.
‘Being a practice owner you have some extra responsibilities about maintaining wellbeing for your staff, and while we all know that there’s insurance it doesn’t come straight away and payroll and bills still need to be paid, so it’s a bit stressful.’
However, while the disaster has had an immense impact on his practice and community, Dr Clements said the response and offers of help from his fellow GPs had helped immensely.
‘If I could have a message to pass on it’s that I really do appreciate the support from all the other GPs from across the country, it really does mean a lot,’ Dr Clements said.

At least 9000 homes remain without power, but with rain set to continue until the weekend many residents are still unsure as to when it will return, or even if their home will still be safe in a few days’ time.
However, despite the uncertainty surrounding almost every other aspect of the disaster, it seems clear that hundreds of Townsville GPs will be doing everything they can to ensure the city’s residents are receiving the best possible care, regardless of the once-in-a-lifetime circumstances they currently face.

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Rosalie Schultz   8/02/2019 10:42:46 AM

GPs also need to be active in promoting climate change mitigation, as with accelerating climate change we expect more and more extreme weather events. The stronger the global community action to reduce climate change the greater and more efficient our impact.

Dr.Gnanasegaran Xavier FRACGP N0.519256   9/02/2019 2:34:07 AM

Congrajulations for the excellent work done.I thought it happens only in Indonesia,Philipines,Thailand and Malaysia.I worked at Acheh during the last psunami.

thushara   9/02/2019 6:16:18 PM

great work ,i wish if i could help Townsville people,as I remembered how i help my country peoples in case of flood disasters