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More rains for Australia's flooded northeast

A farmhouse is surrounded by water after the swollen Fitzroy River broke its banks and flooded the city of Rockhampton and surrounding farmland on January 5, 2011. Tens of thousands of people in Rockhampton braced for complete isolation as waters, which have inundated an area bigger than France and Germany and closed the town's airport and railway, lapped at the last remaining road link. Photo courtesy AFP.Flooded Aussie town cuts supplies over snake risk
Rockhampton, Australia (AFP) Jan 6, 2011 - A flooded Australian town cut emergency supplies Thursday to "totally irresponsible" residents who have refused to leave their homes, saying they were putting personnel at risk from snakes. Rockhampton Mayor Brad Carter said some families were keeping children in their waterbound residences, increasing hazards for emergency staff who have to boat and wade through snake-infested waters to bring food and medicine. "We have taken a decision, and we make it very clear, that we cannot put emergency services resources at risk bringing in those supplies," Carter told reporters. "They have to now respect and understand that because they make that choice... they will not be getting resupply of essential services, goods and grocery items provided by emergency services personnel." Carter said crews had doorknocked more than 2,000 homes, making it inconceivable that people had not been aware of the risks of refusing to evacuate.

He denied claims he was "starving them out" but said the regional hub of 75,000 people, virtually surrounded by some of the worst floods on record, was facing a "unique" set of circumstances. "Flood levels are going to remain very high for at least another seven days which will making living in that kind of environment... very uncomfortable," he said. The roaring Fitzroy River held steady at 9.2 metres (30 feet) overnight and Carter said forecasters believed it would not creep any higher, despite fresh downpours over the sodden city. But the worst was far from over, with floodwaters to remain at current levels for several days and above 8.5 metres for at least a week, leaving hundreds of evacuees homeless and thousands more stranded in their properties. The mucky waters are teeming with some of Australia's most poisonous snakes and crocodiles, while debris and sewage pose major health and safety dangers for emergency crews ferrying food and other essentials to cut off streets.

Food and medical drops would continue to isolated rural properties and towns, but Carter said those in urban Rockhampton whose homes were surrounded by water should consider evacuating. Acting police superintendent David Peff said wading into the waters -- sometimes up to chest height -- was a grave danger for his men and backed the mayor's pleas for residents to leave their homes. "Every time we put police or SES (State Emergency Service) people into that water -- and... there's a lot of snakes -- my personal concern is people that are helping will end up being bitten by a snake," Peff told reporters. "The thing I don't want to see is people getting sick or worse still, killed, through doing something that we really don't need to do." Between 200 and 300 homes had water above their floorboards and about 2,000 to 3,000 are affected in some way. Only one road route into the town remains open, while the railway is closed along with the flooded airport, which is likely to remain shut for about another three weeks because of fears the water has softened the tarmac.
by Staff Writers
Rockhampton, Australia (AFP) Jan 7, 2011
More heavy rains were forecast for Australia's northeast Friday, threatening to worsen flooding after besieged Rockhampton cut supplies to "irresponsible" residents refusing to leave.

In a severe weather warning, Canberra's Bureau of Meteorology said predicted heavy rainfall in parts of Queensland, "with the potential for flash flooding and this may contribute to existing flooding situation."

The bureau said water levels were expected to fall "very slowly" in the regional centre of Rockhampton, a town virtually surrounded by a brown inland sea.

But the town of St George was bracing itself for a flood peak at the weekend of almost 14 metres (45 feet) on the Balonne river, the highest level on record.

Levees have been built, but while the floods are slightly lower than predicted earlier residents fear the effects of the waters, less than a year after the Balonne set its previous highest level.

"To watch your lovely homes that were restored over the last 10 months go under again, it's very heartbreaking and no doubt people are feeling down in the dumps and a little bit bitter," Balonne Shire Mayor Donna Stewart told ABC.

Australia's coal-mining and farming belt near Brisbane is suffering "biblical" floods across an area the size of Texas, after La Nina, a weather system, deluged Queensland state with its wettest year on record.

The waters have affected 200,000 people, and the disaster, described as the state's worst, has inundated or cut off 40 towns. The murky tide has destroyed crops, roads and bridges and swept 10 people to their deaths, along with thousands of animals.

The crisis has cost about Aus$1 billion ($1 billion US) in lost production at Queensland's coking coal mines, which account for half the world's supply, putting upward inflationary pressure on the shaky global economy.

Meanwhile, thousands of people have evacuated or are trying to salvage homes and belongings, while dealing with the threat of poisonous snakes, crocodiles and disease-carrying mosquitoes as they negotiate the sludge and rain.

In Rockhampton, where waters peaked slightly lower than fear, Mayor Brad Carter on Thursday slammed residents, including those with children, who refused to evacuate and were relying on food and groceries brought by emergency personnel wading through snake-infested waters.

"We have taken a decision, and we make it very clear, that we cannot put emergency services resources at risk bringing in those supplies," Carter said.

"They have to now respect and understand that because they make that choice... they will not be getting resupply of essential services, goods and grocery items provided by emergency services personnel."

Acting police superintendent David Peff said that wading into the waters -- sometimes up to chest height -- was dangerous for his men and backed the mayor's pleas to isolated residents in the town of 75,000.

"Every time we put police or SES (State Emergency Service) people into that water... my personal concern is people that are helping will end up being bitten by a snake," Peff told reporters.

Australia's sodden 2010 -- the third wettest year on record -- broke a decade-old drought in some areas and brought the unusual sight of waterfalls cascading off Uluru, or Ayers Rock, as torrents raced along parched riverbeds.

Lush, green landscapes in New South Wales state forced film-makers to postpone shooting for "Mad Max 4", set in a post-apocalypse desert, while an Outback yachting regatta went ahead for the first time in 10 years.

earlier related report
Bread and dripping for flood-hit Australian restaurant
Rockhampton, Australia (AFP) Jan 6, 2011 - Restaurant owner Tai Lam peers nervously at the brown tide lapping towards his full dining tables, and hopes he will still have a business when floodwaters finally recede.

"I'm very nervous, I must admit," said Lam, watching the muddy Fitzroy River rushing just one metre (yard) below his customers.

"It's just the uncertainty, no one knows when it its going to peak."

Lam's Saigon by the River boasted the best river frontage in town before the floods, with a circular open-air balcony offering an enviable view.

But Saigon in the River is now rather more apt, with the Fitzroy more than doubling in height in recent days, leaving just the tips of lamp-posts, trees, and a tin roof visible where a picnic area used to be.

"A lot of people come here because it's very exciting, it's like they're sitting on a cruise and enjoying their lunch, but the seat doesn't move," laughs waiter Steven Tran.

"When they go home they say 'we'll be back', and actually, they do."

The river would have to rise significantly for Lam's restaurant to be inundated, but he has 30 sandbags at the ready just in case.

"That's the worst-case. Hopefully this is it," he told AFP.

Waters continued their slow creep into the main streets this week, lapping at the gutters and sandbagged doors of some businesses and oozing up storm drains. Helicopters thundered overhead, dropping food and medicine to isolated properties.

People were taking running leaps over a channel of sludge to get to the post office on mostly shuttered East Street, and there was a steady stream of people looking at the river gauge, which nudged just above 9.2 metres.

All indications were that the peak had been reached, 0.2 metres short of predictions and below the records set in 1991, 1954 and 1918.

Local construction worker Dennis Tysoe, 63, squinted in disbelief as he watched the river roar past -- at a rate of seven Olympic swimming pools every second, according to police.

"I've seen some cattle go down there and I've seen a fridge go through before," said Tysoe. "I reckon it has to be 50 kilometres (30 miles) an hour, and they're saying the water underneath is going faster than the water on top.

"People just don't realise how much country this bloody river drains."

Tysoe spent the past week shoring up the Rockhampton rubbish tip with masses of dirt to stop garbage spilling into the deluge -- "we don't want anything busting through there."

He lived through the town's storied 1954 and 1991 floods but said he wouldn't be surprised to see this one go higher.

"What they're saying now about the 10 days (under water) here, I quite believe that 'cause there's still a lot of water to come down and it's spread out that wide now, it's unbelievable," he said.

Newsagent Lance McCallum also lived through Rockhampton's earlier big floods, and said he kept his doors open on sheer gut instinct, hoping his business -- "Lucky Daniel's" -- would hold true to its name.

"We just put this up as a precaution, and the only reason I did it is because of my wife, she's just about lost her head," said McCallum, 64, waving at a pile of sandbags just inside the door.

"I understand people want to be cautious, you've got to be, but this is the lowest part of Rocky. You've only got to pee in the bloody (river) and it floods."

Lucky Daniel's is the only shop open in a sea of sandbagged properties, but McCallum said only one thing worried him: forecasts of more rain.

"If we get two or three inches (five or 7.5 centimetres) in an hour that'll be a big problem," he said, glancing at the sky.

"You could build a rock wall (around the river) but the water's coming up through the bloody stormwater drains."

Down on the riverfront, Lam agrees.

"I think everyone's just praying no more rain, no more water."

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Australian mayor says flood recovery may take a year
Rockhampton, Australia (AFP) Jan 6, 2011
It could take a year for Rockhampton to recover from disastrous floods, the Australian town's mayor said Thursday, as the waters threatened the neighbouring state of New South Wales. "I think that this could drag on for 12 months," Mayor Brad Carter said, adding that it would take three weeks before Rockhampton's airport reopened, even though the floods appeared to have peaked just below the ... read more

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