Queensland city Rockhampton hitting flood peak

Flood preparations in the inundated Australian city of Rockhampton are being put to the test as river levels hit their peak.

The Fitzroy river which flows through the Queensland city is at 9.2m (30ft) and expected to hit 9.4m, having already swamped hundreds of acres. Officials say more than 400 homes will be flooded and another 4,000 will have water pouring through their gardens. Many residents have already evacuated, some forced to do so by police.

More than 100 people spent the night in an emergency evacuation centre. City Mayor Brad Carter said the waters were expected to remain at their peak level for about two days.

“Then as it starts to drop and flatten out, it is likely to be about 10 days or so that it could stay at about the 8.5m mark, which indicates that we will have significant water inundation for the best part of… two weeks,” he said.

Many of the city’s historic buildings are being protected by piles of sandbags. The city’s main road to the north is still open but the airport is closed. Supplies are being flown by military cargo plane to a town north of Rockhampton and taken on by road or barge.

Mr Carter said residents had reported seeing snakes moving through the water looking for dry ground and some saltwater crocodiles had also been spotted in the Fitzroy River. “We do not think they are a risk to public safety if people keep out of the waters, but if people do enter the waters their safety cannot be guaranteed,” he told The Australian newspaper.

As the waters rose on Wednesday, Queensland’s cabinet was meeting in emergency session to discuss its response to the crisis. State Premier Anna Bligh said: “Given the scale and size of this disaster… we will continue to have major issues to deal with throughout January. “There are literally thousands of Queenslanders who need our support.”

More than a week of heavy rain has created a huge inland sea across Queensland which is now draining towards the ocean along the state’s river systems, causing chaos in its wake. Officials have said the flooded area is the size of France and Germany combined and 200,000 people have been affected. At least three deaths have been blamed on the floods so far. South of Rockhampton, floodwaters are threatening St George where officials predict 80% of the town could be inundated next week.

To make matters worse, more rain is forecast for the state. On Wednesday meteorologists issued a severe thunderstorm warning for southern areas, saying “very heavy rainfall, flash flooding” were likely, with St George among the locations that could be affected. Queensland Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said the cost of the flood damage would run into “billions and billions of dollars” – BBCNews