Australia airlifts east coast residents ahead of flood peak

Monday, January 3, 2011

SYDNEY - Australia’s military declared victory Monday in its race to provision the 75,000 people of Rockhampton ahead of floods that by mid-week could isolate the east-coast city from the rest of waterlogged Queensland.

Mayor Rod Carter said the Defence Force had ferried in enough food, drinking water and medical supplies to last beyond an emergency that could carry into next week.

Colonel Luke Foster, in charge of the airlift, said Hercules transport planes had brought supplies to Mackay which were then trucked south across the only highway that remains open.

“We’ll continue to monitor the circumstances as they emerge and as they change,” Foster said, noting that seven helicopters would be stationed in Rockhampton.

Queensland is reeling from the worst flooding in the state in 50 years, with 22 towns besieged by water and 200,000 people affected.

A man died when his car was swept off a causeway, the third death since Christmas put down to a flood crisis that extends over an area the size of France and Germany combined.

The rising waters knocked out Rockhampton’s airport Saturday. “We expect to have our airport closed for the best part of three weeks,” Carter said.

The Fitzroy River is projected to peak Wednesday and all roads to the city are expected to be cut off.

“Many Rockhampton residents will recall the devastating floods of 1991 and 1954,” Queensland premier Anna Bligh said. “These river peaks are at those historical levels and unfortunately it’ll be a long time before this massive amount of water recedes.”

She said 150 houses had been inundated and 1,000 more had water lapping up to their steps. If flood projections are correct, 400 houses could have water above their floorboards before the floodwaters sluice out into the Pacific Ocean.

Bligh has come under fire for flying to Sydney to spend New Year’s Eve watching the firework display just hours after telling Queenslanders that the state she runs was facing one of the worst natural disasters in Australia’s history.

Carter urged residents who worried their houses would flood to go to the evacuation centres or to move in with family or friends whose houses were on higher ground.

“If the police tap you on the shoulder and tell you you have to shift, that’s a lawful direction,” the mayor said. “We’re doing that as compassionately as we can, but once that direction is given, there’s no turning back - you have to evacuate your home.”

While the emergency has passed in Theodore, Condamine, Emerald and other Queensland towns, acting police commissioner Alistair Dawson urged people there not to test whether roads were passable.

“It’s hard to make the call that the worst is behind us,” Dawson said. “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.”

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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