Army to rescue in Aussie floods

Crocs in streets as once-in-a-century deluge bites

Boats are launched from a road to help evacuate flood-affected people from Townsville, as the downpour in Australia’s tropical north has seen some areas get a year’s worth of rainfall in a week
Boats are launched from a road to help evacuate flood-affected people from Townsville, as the downpour in Australia’s tropical north has seen some areas get a year’s worth of rainfall in a week
Image: AFP

Australia’s military has been deployed to tackle devastating once-in-a-century floods that have inundated homes, schools and airports in the country’s northeast, forcing hundreds to flee and bringing crocodiles onto the streets.

The Australian defence forces delivered 70,000 sandbags, deployed amphibious cargo vehicles and helped pluck flashlight-wielding residents from their rooftops on Monday, as monsoon rains drenched the northern state of Queensland.

Australia’s tropical north typically experiences heavy rains during the monsoon season, but the recent downpour has seen some areas get a year’s worth of rainfall in a week.

The authorities were forced to open the floodgates of a major dam late on Sunday, unleashing what they called “dangerous and high velocity flows”.

In hard-hit Townsville, cars were mostly submerged, with picket fences barely poking through waist-deep waters.

“We’ve never seen so much water in our lives,” radio journalist Gabi Elgood said.

“You think there can’t possibly be any more to come but the rain just doesn’t stop.”

Desperate residents had to contend not only with flash flooding, landslides and power blackouts, but also several saltwater crocodile sightings in residential roads and cul-de-sacs.

Queensland Police issued a blunt warning for people to stay out of floodwaters.

“If the thought of coming face to face with a crocodile isn’t deterrent enough, before you start playing in flood waters you should always remember the distinct possibility you could be wading in your neighbour’s faeces,” police said.

Emergency services have struggled to respond to the scale of the disaster, with more than 1,100 people calling for help and 18 “swift water rescues” conducted overnight.

“Small boats worked through the night to evacuate members of the community,” Brigadier Scott Winter said.

About 400 Townsville residents have sought shelter at nearby Lavarak military barracks.

State premier Annastacia Palaszczuk warned that the communities faced more difficulties ahead.

Schools and courts remain closed, more rain and high winds are on the way and emergency warnings are still in effect for more than a dozen rivers.

Up to 20,000 homes were at risk of being inundated if the rains continued, officials said.

“It’s basically not just a onein-20-year event, it’s a one-in100-year event,” Palaszczuk said.

Ergon Energy’s spokesperson, Emma Oliveri, said more than 16,000 people were without power, with the supplier unable to say when the lights would come back on.

The main transport artery linking the north of Australia with the rest of the east coast was also affected, prompting concerns about food shortages.

Woolworths Northern Queensland operations manager Tina Anandji said the company had secured two charter planes to carry 3,000 tons of fresh food and essential items to the northern city of Cairns.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s Adam Blazak said the downpours could continue until Thursday, while floodwaters would take some time to recede even when the rains lessened.

A silver lining to the deluge is that it has boosted droughtstricken farmers in western Queensland.

“Queensland has already borne its fair share of extreme weather recently, with unprecedented bushfires, drought, heatwave, a cyclone, and now intense rainfall and flood,” Richard Thornton, of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre, said.

He warned resources “are now being stretched beyond normal with the severe weather seasons getting longer and more complex”.

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