Australia: Queensland floods spur more evacuations

Thousands more people are preparing to evacuate their homes as one of Australia’s worst floods continues to inundate the state of Queensland.Houses in the town of Rockhampton are under threat from rising floodwaters that have displaced 4,000 people.Australian PM Julia Gillard has visited flooded Bundaberg, and flew over Emerald as evacuations there continued.The floods have affected about 200,000 people over an area larger than France and Germany, Queensland’s premier says.The situation in Emerald – a town of some 11,000 people – was particularly bad, Anna Bligh told reporters.There was also major concern for Rockhampton, where residents are said to be attempting to stockpile food and essential supplies.”Authorities think there will be a very large group of people who will be homeless in the next 24 hours,” Ms Bligh said.”We now have three major river systems in flood; we have 17 evacuation centres active; we have more than 1,000 people in those evacuation centres and many more thousands staying with relatives and friends.”

Officials said the situation in Emerald remained uncertain and could yet get worse if floodwaters continue to rise. They have already reached about 16m (52ft).The Nogoa River was due to peak on Friday afternoon, and 1,200 residents had already registered as evacuees before the waters hit their peak.Helicopters including army Black Hawks have been ferrying residents to safer locations.A dam holding back the river is operating at 175% of capacity, the Brisbane Courier-Mail newspaper reported.The executive director of Red Cross Queensland, Greg Goebel, said floodwaters had swamped up to 80% of the town, the Courier-Mail said.Julia Gillard and Anna Bligh were due to visit Emerald on Friday but were unable to land, instead flying over the area to get an aerial view of the devastation.Ms Gillard’s first stop on land was in Bundaberg, which has seen its worst flooding for four decades and has been split in two by the swollen Burnett River. Waters there are now receding.She spoke to evacuees and volunteers, and was briefed on the rescue and recovery effort.

“As devastating as these floods are, we are seeing a magnificent response by all levels of government and by emergency personnel,” Ms Gillard said.”The overwhelming sentiment is one of resilience and one of care and concern for their neighbours. That sense of community pulling together, that Australian sense that when times are tough we work together and look after each other.”Bundaberg resident Sandy Kiddle told the PM: “It was just a sea of water and I thought the beach would never come to our house.”Two smaller towns, Theodore and Condamine, have been completely evacuated. In Condamine some residents had been refusing to leave their houses.Further north, Rockhampton is bracing for rising water that officials say could cut the city off by the weekend.Recovery work following the floods is expected to cost billions of dollars, with officials warning of severe damage to homes, crops and livestock.Sewerage systems have also been affected, raising public health concerns – BBC