UNFORGETTABLE: Arie van den Ende before his retirement in 2014.
UNFORGETTABLE: Arie van den Ende before his retirement in 2014. Rob Williams

Orange angel Arie on hand when city needed him most

Coles and other stores in the CBD underwater at the height of the floods. David Nielsen

FROM the first Bureau of Meteorology reports to the disaster planning meeting, it was clear to all at the command centre how devastating the approaching floodwaters would be for Ipswich.

Five years on from the devastating 2011 floods, the now retired Ipswich SES controller Arie van den Ende recalled the shocking news relayed to those gathered in the Hayden Centre at the 8am meeting like it was yesterday.

"They were starting to say heights; and then they would read out how many houses would be affected and they would start with two, three and then up to 40, then up to 100 ... When it got up towards the 40 we thought we've got a big problem here. But it still wasn't declared," he said.

When he had the chance to look out from the fourth floor windows, he could see the floodwaters approaching the CBD.

"It was coming down Brisbane St you could see it coming across the car park into Coles from underneath the bridge at Marsden Parade. You could see it coming up and you were thinking will it stop, will it stop ... even our own basement of the Hayden Centre was starting to get threatened by water," Mr van den Ende said.

He said it was disappointing to see how many failed to heed the warnings and evacuate their belongings.

"When they went to help people, a lot of people said don't worry about it, we're insured and they just shut the door and walked away. That was sad that they could have got a lot of gear out. If it happens again, people hopefully will take heed and start evacuating in a timely manner," he said.

"I know that we had the team from Goodna went to Brisbane Tce. They went out with the police and warned people that they need to evacuate. These were double storey houses. You couldn't see the water by then but they had worked out by then this is a major problem, get out, get out. Well they didn't because that night, two o'clock in the morning they had the flood boats out evacuating people off the second storey of the houses."

However, he said being told to evacuate and move all of your belongings and furniture within 12 hours was a daunting exercise.

"Some people managed to evacuate, they got to their friends and relatives and they did it, but others, it was too big a job and they were so upset they just shut the door and walked away.

"The hard part was who to help first. You had to try and look at the whole situation. It's not just a one day thing, it's 24 hours, quite a few days.

"We were working 16 hour days. The first time around was 48 hours. We just went for two days without any sleep. The first night I took the phone with me which was a big mistake. After 48 hours, it just kept ringing. I had to redirect the phone to the duty officer. Eventually we went down to 12 hour periods."

He acquired a dedicated phone only for emergency services he dubbed the "bat phone".

"My mobile phone was just useless. It was just going, going, going, going.

"My deputy was answering that phone. With my bat phone I could talk to the hierarchy and the disaster centre. The big thing was that you could make calls, you had an open line."

Mr van den Ende said the lessons learnt from 2011 were a game-changer.

"After 2011 we started getting far more information coming out. With debriefs we got a bit smarter. The warnings are a lot better than what were coming out then.

"Personally I hope it never happens again but we should be planning that it will and maybe be a little bit smarter about it."