Rising Against The Flood

Flood-affected bakeries and their communities re-build as shoppers are warned of shortages and high shelf prices.

Old Fernvale Bakery owner, Bill Rose can normally talk a person’s ear off about his business on a good day. To anyone calling him on 11 January, 2011, however, he was short and to the point.

“Can’t talk right now, we’vre stopping the flood from coming in,” Mr Rose said as the Wivenhoe Dam opened its gates and poured 490,000 mega litres of water out onto the valley below.

With his bakery downhill from the dam and a property overlooking its catchment area, Mr Rose watched the dramatic and tragic events unfold before him in January. His bakery was flooded while water rose around his property, sweeping away four head of cattle and isolating his community of 41 people.

Before the flood reached its peak, Mr Rose travelled to outlying areas to watch the water level rise.

“I went to Katoomba on Monday – it was scary to watch it come over the Somerset Dam. It was roaring. A new bridge went under three metres of water,” he said.

Preliminary estimates of the rebuilding costs in Queensland tally $3.9 billion and other flood-hit areas are about $1 billion, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in January. Several Victorian towns, including Swan Hill on the Murray River, were under threat from river levels in January while other towns in the north-west of the state threatened to be isolated for some time.

In Queensland, Old Fernvale Bakery was closed for three days and six casual staff let go, with four eventually returning to work. Mr Rose estimates that he threw out at least $50,000 worth of stock and his total cost will add up to $100,000. While his bakery was affected, Mr Rose said it could have been worse.

“Most of the machinery was okay, they just needed some new motors. Our business got power before a lot of other businesses, the electricity company put through power in order to get the Woolworths back and we were added on as well,” he said.

As his community ran out of food and medical supplies, Mr Rose travelled to nearby Mt Glorious to visit a chemist.

“I was looking at cars upside down in trees. I saw a guy’s ute that can best be described as tumbled steel. If you can imagine 100m of guard rail screwed up like liquorice, that was Mt Glorious. The trees were all screwed up, it even surprised me,” he said.

The ‘in-land tsunami’ in Toowoomba surged quickly and put bakeries and Allied Mills’ facility out of action. Along the Brisbane River George Weston Foods was also flooded, closing it down for what may be many months.

Less than a kilometre from the river was King of Cakes’ production factory. Owner Wolfgang Kelke said up to three metres of water flooded the building, destroying everything inside.

“I’ve lost all the stock, I’ve lost all the machinery. I’ve basically lost everything; the whole thing is uninsured. So without the factory we are not able to produce or supply the stores at the present point of time,” Mr Kelke told Baking Business in February.

King of Cakes is temporarily renting a factory to keep production going, but Mr Kelke has very little money to get it back to its former position.

“Just imagine yourself, you work 20 years and you lose half a million dollars and insurance not covering it, not even the business interruption where they would be pay the wages and all the rest. So I have to see how to put this money together to be able to afford it,” he said.

Mr Kelke said this was the biggest challenge of his life, but thankfully employees, friends, relatives, old business colleagues and the German consulate have all come together to help rebuild.

“I’ve great moral support in times like this and it proves who’s on your side and who’s helping. Even people in the trade, people like Mel and James (from The Hills Bakery) offered their bakery so we can at least show the customers we can bring in some of our bread ranges back again.

“We have had on the two days (of the flood) and the weekend up to 30-35 people bring out all the debris out of the factory. It was devastating. You work 20 years for something and then within 48 hours it’s gone.

“Energex is here today and helping out and everybody is doing a great bloody job trying to get us back into business.”

Further heartbreak hit west of the Wivenhoe Dam as some bakeries also lost everything. The flood came twice to Steele’s Bakery in Warwick, a town lying 130km south-west of Brisbane. It rose first on Boxing Day in December 2010 and a fortnight later in January, at the same time that Toowoomba’s main street erupted with water.

“The first flood took everything. We had half an hour to get everything out, but we couldn’t get anything out. We got half a dozen bags of flour out and that’s it,” Steele’s Bakery co-owner, Gail Steele told Baking Business

All of Steele’s Bakery’s machinery went under, destroying their mixers, moulders, display counters and slices. Their oven was the only piece of equipment that manufacturer Moffat was able to save, allowing the bakery to keep going with three-quarter capacity.

“My office was floated. If the front doors had been open it would have been floated through the street. I lost all paperwork. For the last two weeks I’ve been slowly drying things out and wiping them off and drying them out and trying to photocopy them to get some sort of record,” she said.

“The computer went and everything too. Everything in the office, any history that we had.”

The December flood came without any warning, Mrs Steele said.

“It’s just that a family friend was driving to try and get through to Brisbane and he had to go past the bakery and he said, ‘You better get in here’. We’re 20 minutes of out of town, so within an hour it was at our ankles… and after (another) half an hour it was up to our waist.”

The first flood reached 1.2m while the second reached a metre higher, but with advanced warning they were able to bring trucks in to save what they could.

“So we got everything out, cause we just came to town and just watched then on in, just watching the water level at different creek crossings before it floods to us,” she said.

“We’ve just opened for a few hours today. It’s very, very quiet and I’ve probably lost about four-five staff, I haven’t got the work for them any more.”

Steele’s Bakery has insurance but will try for government assistance as they aren’t sure how long insurance will take to support them. “Insurance is just going to take forever and in the meantime we’ve had two lots of cleanups and things to be paid for on the spot and all the rest of it,” she said.

“All around us went under. So a lot of them went home and lost everything in their homes and some of them haven’t got insurance and it’s heartbreaking.

“You’ve just got to bare it and go, you don’t just bury your head in the sand. People are exceptionally good around our area anyway and we’ve got a good history here with people so they’ve looking for us to open.”

Dotted west of Brisbane past Ipswich and up to Toowoomba is the Darby’s Fresh Bake chain of pie stores. Queensland manager Sue Barne said Darby’s stores were lucky not to be badly affected, but some of their employees lost their homes and personal possessions.

“One employee lost everything inside the house. Another one lost their car and caravan. There’s lots of people that need help. The biggest problem is getting flour,” Mrs Barnes said.

Darby’s employee Tiresa Afamasaga housed an additional 10 family members alongside her own five children after her sister lost most of her possessions when the Budamba Creek swelled and swamped their home. Like many bakeries affected by the flood, Mrs Barne said Darby’s employees have come together to give to the family that has lost everything, helping to contribute to what for many will be a long rebuilding process.

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