‘Biblical’ floods threaten thousands of Australian homes


BUNDABERG – Flood waters swept through vast areas of northeastern Australia Saturday, threatening to inundate thousands more homes in a disaster one official said was of “biblical proportions”.
As Queen Elizabeth II sent her “sincere sympathies” to Queenslanders who rang in a damp new year, helicopters were being used to deliver food and other supplies to isolated towns. Up to 200,000 people have been affected by the floods, which have hurt the nation’s lucrative mining industry and cut off major highways as the water rushes through sodden inland regions to the sea.
“In many ways, it is a disaster of biblical proportions,” Queensland State Treasurer Andrew Fraser told reporters in flood-hit Bundaberg. As the scale of the flooding mounted, the defence forces on Saturday set up a joint task force to coordinate military relief including three army Black Hawk helicopters already at work, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who on Friday toured inundated regions, said the floods had been devastating and would have an economic impact. “We’re still directly battling flood waters – we haven’t seen the peak of the flood yet at centres like Rockhampton – so the people of Queensland in many places are doing it tough today,” she said.
Gillard said the mining sector had been particularly badly hit, with some companies using the force majeure clauses in their contracts. “They’ve had to say to the people who buy their minerals that at this time, circumstances are such that they can’t keep supply moving,” she told reporters.
“Even those mines that could continue to mine obviously have got difficulties with supply routes because so many roads have been affected,” she said, adding that farmers, small businesses and tourism would also suffer. Emergency workers were focusing their efforts on Rockhampton where the Fitzroy River had broken its banks and was rising dangerously, threatening 2,000-4,000 homes ahead of reaching its expected peak on Wednesday.
“The community is likely to be cut off for a period of 10 days from the south and through this airport,” said Rockhampton Mayor Brad Carter. “It’s possible that our airport could be closed for anything up to three weeks because it takes a fair bit to re-engage… and reactivate an airport once flood waters cover its tarmac.
“The community is still expecting to have significant amounts of flood waters at the height of about 8.5 metres into the middle of January.” But as some wait for the flood peak, in other towns residents are preparing to return to homes evacuated during the week following torrential downpours.
In the central Queensland town of Emerald, where about 80 percent of the town was submerged by the worst flooding on record, water from the Nogoa River has inundated 1,000 homes.
“We’ve only worked that out by taking aerial shots,” Central Highlands Mayor Peter Maguire told the AAP news agency. “There may be more homes affected, we don’t know.”
“We’re talking months of cleaning up and repairs,” he said, adding that in total about 4,000 homes in the region were flood-affected to some degree.
In Bundaberg in the state’s southeast, the clean-up was set to begin in about 300 homes and 120 businesses as the flood waters recede, but other towns such as Theodore and Condamine remain evacuated after days of surging waters.
Flooding hit record levels in Condamine and the town could remain abandoned for a week, according to Western Downs Regional Mayor Ray Brown. Treasurer Fraser said the state’s finances would be hard hit by the deluge. “The cost to the state will be huge – both in direct costs such as rebuilding roads, and other damaged infrastructure and providing relief payments to families – but also in lost income, while the mining, agriculture and tourism sectors recover,” he said.
The floods prompted a message of support from the Queen, who said she had been following “with great concern” news of the devastating floods.