BIG WET: The CBD, like much of the Gympie region, was inundated when the Mary River burst its banks during the 1999 flood.
BIG WET: The CBD, like much of the Gympie region, was inundated when the Mary River burst its banks during the 1999 flood. Troy Jegers

When the flood of the century swamped a whole region

SCHOOLS and businesses closed, people were isolated in their homes, whole communities became islands - from Imbil to the Cooloola Coast - and the biggest flood of the 20th Century just kept rising.

The flood that was initially expected to peak at 14.5m, before the State Emergency Service revised its predictions to forecast a 22m peak, enough to set a new record.

That was the story in The Gympie Times on February 10, 1999 - 20 years ago this month.

SILVER BULLET: The Mary Valley Heritage Railway's Silver Bullet railmotor filled a vital community need, ferrying workers, shoppers and goods between inner-Gympie and Monkland, which had become an island during the flood.
SILVER BULLET: The Mary Valley Heritage Railway's Silver Bullet railmotor filled a vital community need, ferrying workers, shoppers and goods between inner-Gympie and Monkland, which had become an island during the flood. File photo

Rainbow Beach and Tin Can Bay were cut off after the coastal strip received 100mm of rain in only a few hours on February 9.

RIGHT ROYAL FLOOD: Rising waters provided water views for guests at Gympie's Royal Hotel.
RIGHT ROYAL FLOOD: Rising waters provided water views for guests at Gympie's Royal Hotel. File photo

Record rain in the Yabba Creek catchment fed a torrent that ripped through Imbil, effectively destroying the old timber Yabba Creek Bridge, the town's main link to the rest of the world.

Borumba Dam could hold no more and millions of megalitres spilled into the creek and then into the still-rising Mary River.

THATCH: Public toilets at One Mile after receding flood waters left a
THATCH: Public toilets at One Mile after receding flood waters left a "thatch" of hyacinth on the roof. File photo

A low centred off Double Island Point combined with an active monsoon trough to dump incalculable amounts of rain throughout the Mary River catchment, causing huge flows that drove up flood levels as the water backed up in Gympie.

Caught by a narrowing of the r

iver at Fisherman's Pocket, the water kept rising even after the rain stopped.

Mary St looked like a street of Queenslander houses, the "houses” being really the upper floors of buildings inundated at ground level.

Jet skis became a novel means of transport, fortunately driven at low speed to prevent excess wash from water craft worsening damage to businesses and homes.

The Mary Valley Heritage Rail became a vital suburban rail link in a city that no longer had any other link between the CBD and Monkland.

The "Silver Bullet” rail motor carried meat from Nolans to Gympie and milk, bread and newspapers from the city, also acting as a commuter service, taking workers and sightseers back and forth between the twin islands of Gympie and Monkland.

But massive as the flood was, it only just made it into the record books.

Another year and it would have been in the 21st Century.

About 60 homes in Gympie city were inundated, the Bruce Highway north and south was closed until February 12.

The official flood height was 21.95m, not quite reaching the 22m of the 1898 flood or the record 25.45m in 1893.

An eerie silence reflected the suspension of all normal activity as the water began to recede on February 10, still flowing more than 20m deep and travelling at 60km/h towards Maryborough, the next community to experience the flood of the century.