Floodwaters in an inundated city on Australia’s north-eastern coast held steady below their predicted peak today as exhausted residents were warned they would face a long wait before the churning, muddy mess dries up.
Residents of the waterlogged city of Rockhampton were hopeful the river had swelled to its highest level, with the mayor saying the community appeared to have been spared any further damage.
Water from the overflowing Fitzroy River has already swamped 200 homes and 100 businesses, while flooding elsewhere in north-eastern Australia has forced thousands to evacuate.
“It looks like it may have stabilised,” mayor Brad Carter said.
More than a week of pounding rains that started just before Christmas left much of north-eastern Australia under a sea of water that is making its way through river systems towards the ocean.
Around 1,200 homes in Queensland have been inundated, with another 10,700 suffering some damage, Queensland premier Anna Bligh said today. About 4,000 residents evacuated from their homes in the flood zone, which spans an area greater than France and Germany combined.
The deluge has ruined crops, closed most of the state’s lucrative coal mines and caused “catastrophic” damage to Queensland’s transport systems, Bligh told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.
“This is a disaster of an unprecedented scale and it will require an unparalleled rebuilding effort,” she told reporters in Brisbane, where officials held an emergency meeting today to sort out recovery plans for the 200,000 people affected by the deluge.
Until the waters dry up, it won’t be clear what the cost of the flooding will be, Bligh said, but the price tag is expected to reach into the billions.
“If you count everything from the cost to homes, the home rebuilding effort, public infrastructure rebuilding effort and economic loss, I think we’re well above $5bn AUS (£3.2bn) territory,” Bligh said.
Floodwaters have made it impossible for 40 of the state’s coal mines to operate, ministers said at the emergency cabinet meeting.
“It’s going to take some months for some mines to be back to full operation,” resources minister Stephen Robertson said. “We earn round about $100M AUS (£64M) a day exporting coal to the rest of the world and exports have been significantly restricted by the impact on infrastructure.”
In Rockhampton, a city of 75,000, about 500 residents were evacuated as the Fitzroy River rose and overflowed this week. There were fears it would climb higher today, but even if the waters levels hold, residents face a long wait before things return to normal, officials warned.
“These water levels will be consistently high for a long period of time and these levels could stay for 24 hours before they start to drop,” Queensland police acting assistant commissioner Alistair Dawson said.
In other parts of the state, some flooded communities were beginning to dry out. In the town of Theodore, which evacuated all 300 residents last week, specialists arrived in helicopters today to check the safety of power, water and sewage plants, county mayor John Hooper said.
Officials were still trying to determine when it would be safe to allow residents to return. One problem is an influx of venomous snakes, flushed from their habitats and searching for dry ground amid the waters.