Australia’s military has been deployed to tackle devastating “once-in-a-century” floods that have inundated homes, schools and airports in the country’s northeast, forcing hundreds to flee and bringing crocodiles onto the streets.
The Australian Defense Forces yesterday delivered 70,000 sandbags, deployed amphibious cargo vehicles and helped pluck flashlight-wielding residents from their rooftops, as monsoon rains drenched the northern state of Queensland.
Australia’s tropical north typically experiences heavy rains during the monsoon season, but the recent downpour has seen some areas get a year’s worth of rainfall in a week.
The authorities late on Sunday were forced to open floodgates of a major dam, unleashing what they called “dangerous and high velocity flows.”
In hard-hit Townsville, vehicles were mostly submerged, with picket fences barely poking through waist-deep flood waters.
“We’ve never seen so much water in our lives,” local radio journalist Gabi Elgood said. “You think there can’t possibly be any more to come, but the rain just doesn’t stop.”
Desperate residents had to contend not only with flash flooding, landslides and power blackouts, but also several saltwater crocodile sightings in residential roads and cul-de-sacs.
Queensland Police issued a blunt warning for people to stay out of floodwaters.
“If the thought of coming face to face with a crocodile isn’t deterrent enough, before you start playing in flood waters you should always remember the distinct possibility you could be wading in your neighbor’s feces,” it said.
Emergency services have struggled to respond to the scale of the disaster, with more than 1,100 people calling for help and 18 “swift water rescues” conducted overnight on Sunday. About 400 Townsville residents have sought shelter at nearby Lavarak military barracks.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the communities face more difficulties ahead. Schools and courts remain closed, more rain and high winds are on the way, and emergency warnings still in effect for more than a dozen rivers.
Up to 20,000 homes are at risk of being inundated if the rains continue, officials said.
“It’s basically not just a one-in-20-year event, it’s a one-in-100-year event,” Palaszczuk said. “This is unprecedented, we’ve never seen anything like this before.”
The main transport artery linking the north of Australia with the rest of the east coast was also affected, prompting concerns about food shortages.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s Adam Blazak said the downpours could continue until Thursday, while floodwaters would take some time to recede even when the rains lessen.
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