Flooding in Queensland, Australia, may last weeks

Devastating flood waters across the Australian state of
Queensland may not recede for weeks, the state’s Premier Anna Bligh has warned.

More than 20 towns in Queensland have been cut off or
flooded, with more than 200,000 people affected.

Military aircraft are flying supplies into Rockhampton,
which has been isolated by the still-rising waters.

The authorities have now confirmed three deaths caused by
flood waters in the past few days.

From here the city of Rockhampton looks like a small island
surrounded by an inland sea.

We’re still 36 hours away from the peak of the
floodwaters but they have been closing in on the central business district
faster than originally anticipated.

People are being ordered by police to leave their homes.
They have been wading through these outlying suburbs, chest-deep at times, to
tell people to leave. Many are reluctant to do so.

There have been reports of small-scale looting and many
people are worried not just by the floodwaters but by the possibility their
homes might be robbed by looters. That is why an evacuation centre which has
room for 1,500 people had only 50 overnight.

Ms Bligh has recalled ministers from holidays for crisis
talks to plan the response to the flooding.

“Given the scale and size of this disaster, and the
prospect that we will see waters sitting potentially for a couple of weeks, we
will continue to have major issues to deal with throughout January,” she
said.

Her concern was echoed earlier by Australian Prime
Minister Julia Gillard, saying: “This is a major natural disaster and
recovery will take a significant amount of time.

“The extent of flooding being experienced by
Queensland is unprecedented and requires a national and united response.”

Approximately 850,000 sq km have been affected, an area
equivalent in size to France and Germany.

Australian Red Cross executive director Greg Goebel said
there were seven evacuation centres currently operating, generally in town
halls, gymnasiums or schools, and the army were flying in supplies.

“It is a major disaster, it’s a heartbreak for many,
many thousands of people and will certainly take an enormous amount of time to
get their

The comments come as the city of Rockhampton became cut
off by waters spilling from the still-swelling Fitzroy River, leading many of
its inhabitants to flee.

“Rockhampton is now completely stranded – a town of
75,000 people – no airport, rail or road,” Ms Bligh told ABC radio late on
Monday.

With the last route into Rockhampton cut, three
Australian Defence Force helicopters will provide the city’s only lifeline for
food and medical supplies.

“The worst [is] still to come in communities like
Rockhampton. Supplying them with food, ensuring that we keep them safe during
this flood is absolutely critical,” Ms Bligh said.

The water level in the Fitzroy River is expected to peak
at 9.4m late on Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Mr Goebel said that police were enforcing evacuations in
a number of suburbs, and a mobile hospital had been set up on dry ground.

Rockhampton Mayor Brad Carter said about 40% of the city
could be affected, and residents may have to wait at least two weeks before
being able to return home.

Kay Becker, chief executive of Capricorn Helicopter
Rescue, said most people were behaving sensibly in the floods.

“People are seeing water in places that they’ve
never ever seen it before, it’s very high water, the water’s running very fast,
and you know, if you play with water the water will win and you will come off
second best, and thankfully most people have, it seems, have heeded that
warning,” she said.

‘Stocking up’

One Rockhampton resident told the BBC that she had
stocked up on fuel and food at petrol stations as she drove back early from
holiday.

“We are going to stay in, we are fully prepared,
have plenty of food and have been boiling the water – but if the water gets
higher than 9.4m we will have to turn the power off and might have to
leave,” said Trudi Reed.

 

“The water is coming very quickly and we are
watching it rise.”

Another resident said there had been panic-buying in the
city.

“Lots of people have been stocking up on fuel. I
also heard about one woman who brought 20 loaves of bread from a
supermarket,” resident Petros Khalesirad told the BBC.

The intense rains have also had an impact on coal and sugar
production.

The Queensland premier said 75% of operations at the
state’s coal fields had been halted, which supply half of the world’s coking
coal needed in steel manufacturing.

The state is also responsible for almost all the
country’s sugar production, and with cane fields drenched, Australia, usually a
net exporter, will be forced to import.

Prime Minister Gillard has announced that grants and
low-interest loans would be made available to help local businesses recover
from the flooding.

On Monday, two more deaths from the flooding were
confirmed.

One was a 38-year-old man whose boat was swamped near the
mouth of the Boyne River, and the other was a woman whose car was washed off
the road west of Emerald.

On Sunday, another woman swept from the road while trying
to cross the Leichhardt River became the first confirmed death since the
flooding was declared a disaster.

Forecasters cancelled a severe storm warning on Monday,
saying the immediate threat had passed.

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