Australia floods

'A disaster of biblical proportions'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The floods devastating a vast area of Australia were last night predicted to worsen with the threat of fresh heavy rainfall, as thousands of people flee their homes and the authorities fight a disaster of "biblical proportions".

A woman swept away while trying to cross one of dozens of swollen rivers in Queensland became the latest of what is thought to be eight victims of the deluge. It has put an area the size of France and Germany combined under water and affected 200,000 people in Australia's third-most-populous state. So far, 22 towns have been inundated.

The coastal town of Rockhampton, some 300 miles north of Brisbane and home to 75,000 people, was the focus of an emergency operation yesterday after all its road and rail links were cut off and its airport closed. Some 1,400 homes have been abandoned and the mayor warned that 40 per cent of the town could be affected by surging waters of up to 30ft, which are not expected to peak for another 72 hours.

Officials said that the clean-up costs from the flooding, which has hit about half of Queensland's 715,305 square miles of territory, would reach billions of pounds. The human and economic cost of the disaster could yet deepen after forecasters warned that a severe storm due to cross the southern half of the state overnight would bring with it damaging winds, renewed heavy rainfall, hailstones and further flash flooding.

Alistair Dawson, Queensland's acting assistant police commissioner, said: "It's hard to make the call that the worst is behind us. It's a unique event – parts of the state are still in response mode while others are in recovery. I think we're in the middle of the event."

Days of heavy rain in the last week saw a tide of muddy water sweep across the state, breaking the banks of 10 rivers as it made its way down from a huge inland catchment area to the coast. States of natural disaster are declared in 41 of Queensland's 73 municipalities.

Coastal communities such as Rockhampton will bear the brunt of the torrent over the next three days with about 1,000 people in evacuation centres across the state and thousands more waiting anxiously to see how fast the waters rise. Forecasters have predicted that the water level in Rockhampton could be as high as 30ft, prompting the authorities to contemplate forced evacuations.

Andrew Fraser, the treasurer of Queensland, said: "In many ways it is a disaster of biblical proportions."

The body of a woman was recovered in Burketown on Saturday night after her car was swept away while trying to cross a flooded causeway.

As many as eight people, including a swimmer and fisherman, are now missing, feared dead, as a result of the floods. Mr Dawson said "We're just grateful there weren't more casualties. We're focused on preventing any more."

Further inland, residents were yesterday returning to pick through the ruins of their homes as the initial floodwaters receded. In Emerald, about 170 miles inland from Rockhampton, some residents defied advice to stay away and began to inspect their properties.

More than a thousand houses had been inundated by floodwater and most of the town's businesses have been affected, prompting the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to announce this weekend a payment of up to A$1,000 (£650) per person to Queenslanders who have lost their homes.

One local, Joe Chapman, said nearly 2ft of water was sloshing around his house. He said: "I think it would be at least seven or eight days before we get it into some sort of shape to live in."

Another resident, Michelle Jackson, said the damage was worse than she had feared. She said: "I'm teary just looking at our place. I can't believe furniture has moved around in the house and it's all in the water. There are things I thought were high enough and they're now down in the water."

Warren Bridson, the director general of emergency management, said: "It will be a heartbreaking return to homes for a lot of Queenslanders."

Amid fears of looting and plans to fly in troops to help the recovery, there were warnings that the floods will have an economic impact on Queensland, which accounts for about a fifth of Australia's £800bn economy. The state last year spent more than £500m on relief from natural disasters, much on the effects of a severe drought. Now weeks of rain has destroyed crops, including the cotton harvest, halted coal deliveries and closed mines, which make valuable payments to the state government.

As the water receded in some areas, a new threat emerged, this time from wildlife. Authorities warned that the floodwaters had brought out a plague of dangerous pests, including snakes.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried