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Australian towns brace for peaking floodwaters

Friday, January 7, 2011

(Photo)
Floodwaters are seen Tuesday in Depot Hill, Rockhampton, Australia. Floods that have cut air, rail and road links to an Australian coastal city are now threatening its sewage plant, and waters are still expected to rise another few feet before peaking Wednesday.
(Janie Barrett ~ Associated Press)
BRISBANE, Australia -- Australian officials on Friday urged residents of towns in the path of rising floodwaters to evacuate to higher ground as at least one river was forecast to peak higher than forecast due to heavy rain the night before.

Residents of St. George were scrambling to fill sandbags to shore up a levee they hope will hold off the Balonne River. Although the river was expected to peak lower than the original prediction of 46 feet, officials still asked people to follow instructions and maintain caution.

"I think people often underestimate the awesome power of floodwaters," Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said. "It is a very dangerous body of water. You are only being asked to move for your safety and the safety of your family and emergency workers."

The southern Queensland town of 2,500 was also devastated by a flood last March. The lower peak prediction means fewer than 30 homes face water damage.

About 190 miles west, a warning was being sent out to the small township of Dalby that a flood peak was coming earlier than expected.

Myall Creek will inundate yards, the local caravan park and parking lots on Friday afternoon, Western Downs Mayor Ray Brown said.

"It's been quite surprising how quickly it's come in," Brown said. "It's of huge concern because it will inundate house yards, but it will not inundate houses. It's certainly a significant amount of water."

The Australian military has partnered with emergency crews to deliver fuel and sandbags to the drenched communities cut off by floodwaters.

"We're looking further in the state to assess what might be hit next," said Col. Luke Foster, commander of the joint task force overseeing the recovery effort. "I see significant issues to be dealt with by the Queensland people into the future."

A water purification unit has been installed in St. George, and fuel and sandbags were bring delivered or air-dropped to other towns.

In other parts of the state, some flooded communities were beginning to dry out. Six families returned to their homes Thursday in the town of Condamine, whose entire population of 150 was ordered to evacuate last week as the Condamine River reached a record 14.25 meters. The other families were bused to a nearby camp while they wait to return to their houses.

The town still has no drinking water and officials warned of waterborne disease. The state was providing electricians, plumbers, portable toilets and water and food for residents returning Friday.

Four thousand people across Queensland have been evacuated from their homes since driving rains that began just before Christmas left much of the region under a sea of murky water. Around 1,200 homes have been inundated, with another 10,700 suffering some damage in the flood zone, an area greater than France and Germany combined.

The flooding has already had a major economic impact on the region, shutting down three-quarters of the state's lucrative coal mines and devastating crops. The total cost is not yet known, but Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the price of rebuilding homes, businesses and infrastructure coupled with economic losses could be as high as $5 billion.

The mayor of Rockhampton, one of the hardest hit cities, warned that the 75,000 residents were in for a long cleanup and recovery period.

"I think that this could drag on for 12 months," Brad Carter said.

The city's overflowing Fitzroy River is very slowly receding, after spilling onto 3,000 properties and leaving 200 homes with water above the floorboards. More than 500 people were evacuated from the city.


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