Flood victims warned of risk from snakes and crocodiles

Residents of a flood-hit Australian city were warned yesterday not to wade through the waist-high waters because of fears that crocodiles and snakes could be lurking.

Floods that have cut air, rail and road links to Rockhampton are now threatening its sewage plant, and waters are still expected to rise another few feet before peaking today.

A huge inland sea spawned by more than a week of heavy rain across Queensland state is making its way along the Fitzroy river toward the ocean – and Rockhampton lies in the way.

The city of 75,000 people is expected to see flood levels rise another few feet by later today. The river has already burst its banks, inundating houses and businesses in waters ranging from a few inches to waist-deep. Up to 500 people who live along the river have evacuated their homes. Air and rail links to the city were cut and only one main road remained open.

Brad Carter, mayor of Rockhampton, said yesterday that large swathes of the city may be under water for another two weeks. He said the floodwaters were threatening the city's sewage treatment plants and officials may seek to discharge some effluent directly into the swollen river system. He said this would only occur away from the city, and that the discharged sewage would be highly diluted and would not pose a health risk.

Authorities have warned residents to stay out of floodwaters for their own safety, saying the biggest risk is from fast-moving currents powerful enough to sweep cars from roads. At least two people have drowned after being swept away in their cars.

Residents have reported seeing more snakes than usual as the animals move around looking for dry ground. Saltwater crocodiles have been spotted in the Fitzroy river.

Mr Carter told The Australian newspaper: "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."

Wendy Hilcher, an animal welfare worker, said the chance of meeting snakes and crocodiles were hampering her group's efforts to rescue pets left behind in homes in flooded areas of the city. "It's not just the safety aspect of getting to these places, it's what's in the water itself," said Ms Hilcher, from the RSPCA. "If it gets too dangerous, we have to get out of there."

Rockhampton is the latest of 22 cities and towns in Queensland to be swamped by floods that began building just before Christmas – the worst effects of an unusually wet summer in the tropical region.

No one has died in Rockhampton, but swollen rivers and flooding have killed 10 people in Queensland since late November.

The flooded area covers the size of France and Germany combined and 200,000 people have been affected.

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, sent a condolence message and said Washington was ready to help if needed. "Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by these floods, especially the families of the victims, and with all the people of Australia," she said.