The Australian city of Rockhampton is bracing itself as devastating flood waters are expected to reach their highest levels in the next 12-18 hours. Military aircraft are rushing to get supplies to remaining residents, via the only land access route left. Police are urging people to stay out of the snake-infested waters, that have claimed the lives of three people. In other areas of Queensland, residents are beginning the recovery process, while others prepare for fresh floods.
More than 20 towns across a huge swathe of Queensland have been cut off or flooded, and more than 200,000 people affected. In the southern town of St George, residents are on heightened alert after the weather bureau predicted a peak that would inundate 80% of the town. Meanwhile in Emerald, locals have begun sifting through their flood-damaged furniture, as flood waters recede from the Nogoa River that flooded more than 1,000 houses. The flood crisis has also had a huge impact on the region’s coal and sugar production. Premier Anna Bligh said 75% of operations have been halted at the state’s coal fields, which supply half of the world’s coking coal needed in steel manufacturing.
Rockhampton is at the centre of the state’s flood emergency, with its 75,000 residents bracing for the Fitzroy River to peak at about 9.4m (31ft). Mayor Brad Carter told the BBC that levels were currently about 9.2m, and warned that the floods may not recede for weeks. More than 500 homes in the city have been evacuated but some residents are refusing to leave, Australian broadcaster ABC reported.
A major highway north of the city is still open but officials say it could be impassable within hours. With Rockhampton’s airport closed, supplies are being delivered to the city by military helicopters and barges. With the flood peak still several hours away and many residents refusing to leave, emergency services are preparing to rescue those in trouble. Emergency teams have set up a “tactical medical centre” with dozens of tents at the small airport in the coal port of Gladstone, about 100km (60 miles) south of Rockhampton.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has described the situation as “a major natural disaster” and said recovery would take “a significant amount of time”. The US was the latest nation to offer its assistance to the recovery of Queensland. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “Australia is an important partner and close friend of the United States and we stand ready to provide assistance.” – BBC