Sydney (AFP) Jan 9, 2011
Heavy rains falling on Australia's flooded north-east could have a "dramatic" impact, officials warned Sunday, stretching already swollen rivers and creeks to their limit across the devastated region.
Queensland police commissioner Alistair Dawson said that severe weather lashing the already sodden northeastern state could bring flash flooding to currently dry areas with little warning.
"Waters will rise quickly -- you may not be aware of that rise," Dawson told reporters. "Those places which have gone under before, especially on the road system, could well flood again within an hour."
Emergency chief Warren Bridson said the unprecedented deluge -- which has hit an area larger than France and Germany combined, paralysing the key agricultural and coal-mining region -- meant the rain's impact was unpredictable.
"The ground is so waterlogged, the catchments so primed, the rivers so full, the creeks are all flooding, and it will mean something more dramatic than it has in the past," Bridson said.
"That 200 millimetres (eight inches) of rain... could mean the difference between a minor flood and a major flood," he added.
The wild weather even hit Queensland's premier Anna Bligh, with lightning striking her airplane as she toured flood-stricken areas, reportedly scorching the wings and startling those on board with a loud bang.
"Premier's plane was just struck by lightning. We landed safely. But slightly shaken. Plane will need to be repaired," television reporter Sylvia Jeffreys, who was tailing Bligh on Sunday, wrote on the Twitter microblogging site.
Bligh's office confirmed the plane had been hit after takeoff in central Queensland and would be "out of action for a little while", but stressed that no-one had been hurt.
Several towns remained severely inundated, including a number still bracing for floodwaters to peak, and the Bureau of Meteorology said strong storms could bring more misery for already swamped towns.
"Some heavy falls are likely, which may lead to localised flash flooding and/or worsen existing river flooding," the bureau said.
The town of Maryborough was expecting the raging Mary River to peak twice on Sunday due to the rains, while nearby Gympie prepared for a major flood to threaten homes and businesses.
River levels at the major flood centres of Rockhampton and St George remained just below their peaks, while huge clean-up operations had begun in a number of other towns, assisted by New Zealand emergency workers.
Police said they had recovered the body of a 19-year-old woman who went missing while swimming with friends in a swollen creek at Barambah late Saturday. At least a dozen lives have been lost in the floods.
Thousands of homes and businesses remained without power after the floods and over 5,000 lightning strikes, electricity supplier Energex said in a statement, with crews working overnight to try to reconnect electrical cables.
But the waters are not expected to recede significantly for at least another week, preventing hundreds of evacuated residents from returning home and severing the major highway to Cairns, tourism gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.
The "biblical" deluge has wiped out crops and brought dozens of coal mines to a standstill, driving up world prices and threatening the key steelmaking industry. The disaster is expected to shave at least Aus$6 billion ($6 billion) from Australia's economy.
Australians have donated more than $30 million to a public appeal for flood victims, AAP reported, including over $10 million raised in a telethon by the commercial Nine television network on Sunday night.
Tennis officials pledged to donate $10 to the relief fund for every ace served during Australia's summer tournaments, including the Sydney and Brisbane Internationals and the Australian Open. The ATP and WTA expect to raise more than $40,000.
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If Rockhampton is suffering its worst ever floods, Australian rescue chief John Fisher ought to know - flying overhead in his helicopter, the veteran pilot has seen them all. "A lot of people around this place have seen floods, but not of this dimension before," said Fisher, one eye on the storm clouds gathering overhead. "The extent of water out there in the Fitzroy (river), it's astou ... read more
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