Mon, Jan 10, 2011 - Page 4 News List

‘Dramatic’ flood warning for Australia

WILD WEATHER:Lightning struck Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s plane as she toured flood-stricken areas, reportedly scorching the wings and startling passengers

AFP, SYDNEY

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, left, travels from Gladstone to Rockhampton to view the flooded Fitzroy River on Saturday.

PHOTO: EPA

Heavy rains falling on Australia’s flooded northeast could have a “dramatic” impact, officials warned yesterday, 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, paralyzing 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 200mm of rain ... could mean the difference between a minor flood and a major flood.”

The wild weather even hit Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, with lightning striking her plane 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 localized 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 centers 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 on Saturday. At least a dozen lives have been lost in the floods.

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 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 A$6 billion (US$6 billion) from Australia’s economy.

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