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
"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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