Crocodiles alert as floods hit Australia

Australians battling major floods in the tropical state of Queensland have been warned to be on the look out for crocodiles and snakes, after a series of sightings in flooded towns, officials said today.

Some 17 rivers are in flood and 62 percent or more than 1 million sq kms (386,000 sq miles) of Queensland, Australia's second largest state, has been declared a natural disaster.

Some towns are virtually underwater and others will be isolated for weeks by floodwaters, officials said.

Thousands of homes have been declared flood-affected and the damage bill is around A$110 million ($70 million).

"Unrelenting rain and flooding has battered North Queensland over recent weeks and the Queensland government is working hard to ensure residents are receiving the financial assistance and support they need," Communities Minister Lindy Nelson-Carr said in a statement on Wednesday.

The flooding started last December, at one point closing major inland mines, and has continued, fed by a series of rain depressions and a cyclone. A low depression off the coast is currently threatening to form into a cyclone, bringing more rain.

Weather officials said today that the Gulf of Carpentaria coast, the northeast tropical coast of Queensland and the inland southwest channel country were flooded.

Some of the worst flooding was in the coastal sugar town of Ingham with residents forced to use boats to move around. Almost 3,000 homes were flood-affected in Ingham, where floodwaters were nearing a peak of 8.9 metres (26 feet).

Australia is a major sugar exporter with Queensland's northeast coast producing the bulk of the crop. Luckily for sugar farmers, harvesting was completed before the flooding started.

In the Gulf country, the Herbert River peaked at 12.25 metres (36 feet), just below its 1967 record.

Huge crocodiles in the centre of some Gulf towns have hampered rescue efforts and large numbers have reportedly been seen swimming towards the 60 km-wide (37 mile) mouth of the flooded Norman River, reported local media.

Normanton in northwest Queensland has been isolated for four weeks. Barges loaded with essential supplies have been supplying the area from Cairns on the northeast coast.

Manager of the Albion Hotel in Normanton, Donna Smith, said the town was expected to run out of beer in two days.

"We can put up with a lot of drama, no fruit and vegies, but nobody wants a pub with no beer," Smith told Brisbane's Courier-Mail newspaper.

Smith said a four-metre (12 feet) crocodile had been seen stalking residents and dogs in the flooded main street.

Ingham resident David Harkin said he would evacuate after watching water run through the ground floor of his two-level home and sighting several snakes near his home.

"I keep the broom here (at the front door) to chase the snakes away," Harkin told local media.

But cattle farmers in north Queensland have welcomed the floods, after battling drought for years, expecting their pastures to blossom once floodwaters recede.

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