SYDNEY — Thousands of retailers are among those affected by a flood crisis that has crippled Australia’s northeastern state of Queensland, leaving 15 people dead, 61 missing and an estimated cleanup bill of 20 billion Australian dollars, or $19.97 billion at current exchange.
After two weeks of regional downpours created a flood zone the size of France and Germany combined, things took a deadly turn on Monday when a 26-foot wall of water that has been likened to an “inland tsunami” swept through the Lockyer Valley, which is located 79 miles west of Queensland’s capital city, Brisbane.
By the time the Brisbane River peaked at more than 14 feet at 4 a.m. Thursday morning, Australia’s third-largest city had been transformed into a ghost town. The central business district was under water, power was cut to over 100,000 people, 33,000 residential and commercial properties were inundated, thousands were in evacuation centers and nearly every major road and rail line had been severed.
As a result, 3,500 Brisbane retailers closed their doors on Tuesday, some reopening by Thursday. The David Jones and Myer department store chains closed six and three units, respectively, with all but one of David Jones stores open by Friday and Myer’s Toowoomba store damaged by floodwaters. Woolworths closed nine supermarkets across the state and Coles closed 16 supermarkets.
“This is a flood-out — it is going to be an astronomical repair job,” said Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman, who predicts fashion retailers will be among the hardest hit.
“They would have had a very tough time, because inclement weather probably slowed down trade in any case since Christmas and it’s taken away from the holiday makers who would normally be in that area spending money” added Zimmerman. “The third impact would be a loss of stock and can they replace it? I have doubts. There won’t be a lot of stock until the new winter stock comes around [in early February]. There may be people who are underinsured. And there may be retailers who just say, ‘this is all too hard’ and may or may not reopen.”
Brisbane-based designer Pamela Easton escaped unscathed, with her home, the Easton Pearson offices and the company’s flagship boutique in the fashion hub of Fortitude Valley spared from flooding.
“Everyone took precautions, sandbagging and putting up plastic and lifting things, but we have been incredibly fortunate and had no damage at all,” said Easton, who planned to reopen the office today with a skeleton staff, pending how many employees have been affected. The boutique might reopen Monday. Not that any discretionary retailers are expecting to do a roaring trade.
“This is certainly going to slow things up,” said Easton. “Everyone will now have different priorities and fashion is going to be right at the bottom of their list, which is perfectly understandable. People have lost lives, lost their homes, some have nowhere to live tonight.”
“Everyone panicked on Tuesday, when all the retail started shutting down,” said Subfusco designer Josh Scacheri, whose studio is located in the West End suburb. “We barricaded doors, put everything on a high level, filled the whole car with stock, about $20,000 worth. It [the water] missed it by about 50 metres, it was really scary.”
He added, “It’s definitely surreal. The streets are really quiet, you can hear all the helicopters going over at night. It’s a bit of a war zone actually.”