Sun, Jan 02, 2011 - Page 4 News List

N E Australia deals with ‘biblical’ flood

new-year woes:Emergency workers continued to focus on Rockhampton where the Fitzroy River was rising dangerously and not expected to reach its peak until Wednesday

AFP, BUNDABERG, Australia

Flood waters swept through vast areas of northeastern Australia yesterday, threatening to inundate thousands more homes in a disaster one official said was of “biblical proportions.”

As Queen Elizabeth II sent her “sincere sympathies” to Queenslanders who rang in a damp new year, helicopters were being used to deliver food and other -supplies to isolated towns.

Up to 200,000 people have been affected by the floods which have hurt the nation’s lucrative mining industry and cut off major highways as the water rushes through sodden inland regions to the sea.

“In many ways, it is a disaster of biblical proportions,” Queensland State Treasurer Andrew Fraser told reporters in flood-hit Bundaberg.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who on Friday toured inundated regions, said the floods had been devastating and would clearly have an economic impact.

“We’re still directly battling floodwaters, we haven’t seen the peak of the flood yet at centers like Rockhampton, so the people of Queensland in many places are doing it tough today,” she said.

Gillard said the mining sector had been particularly badly hit, with some companies resorting to force majeure clauses in their contracts.

“They’ve had to say to the people who buy their minerals that at this time, circumstances are such that they can’t keep supply moving,” she told reporters.

“Even those mines that could continue to mine obviously have got difficulties with supply routes because so many roads have been affected,” she said, adding that farmers, small business and tourism would also suffer.

Emergency workers were focusing their efforts on Rockhampton where the Fitzroy River had broken its banks and was rising dangerously, threatening some 2,000 to 4,000 homes ahead of reaching its expected peak on Wednesday.

“We know we have prepared as best we can,” Rockhampton Mayor Brad Carter said of the flood which could leave the town stranded for 10 days.

Rockhampton’s airport was expected to close to commercial flights yesterday as floodwaters rose, while overall the state is experiencing flooding over an area the size of France and Germany combined.

However, as some wait for the flood peak, residents in other towns are preparing to return to homes they evacuated last week in the wake of torrential downpours.

In the central Queensland town of Emerald, where about 80 percent of the town was submerged by the worst flooding on record, water from the Nogoa River has inundated some 1,000 homes.

The floods prompted a message of support from the queen, who said she had been following “with great concern” news of the devastating floods.

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