Australia’s flood crisis deepened yesterday as authorities braced for waters to peak in Queensland where one woman is missing after being swept away, while elsewhere thousands remain stranded by the surge.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said eight military helicopters would help in search, evacuation and resupply missions in the eastern state, where days of heavy rainfall have prompted -hundreds of evacuations and dozens of rescues.
“The helicopters will be available to assist in rescue operations as required, until the immediate crisis has passed,” Gillard said in a statement.
In the inland Queensland town of Charleville authorities are on alert amid fears a temporary levee could collapse as the Warrego River continues to rise, flooding the whole town.
The weather bureau’s Paul Birch told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) the situation was “touch and go” because the water would be “rushing in quick over the levee.”
“If it does that you find it tends to erode out part of the levee fairly quickly, so then it will just open up the river into town — it’s quite catastrophic,” Birch said.
Charleville Mayor Mark O’Brien said that hundreds of people had been evacuated from their homes, but so far the town itself was “high and dry.”
“We have just got an enormous body of water going down the river, but if this thing passes quickly people can just go straight back to the way they were before,” he told ABC.
In the town of Roma to the east, police were continuing their search for a woman missing since Friday after her vehicle was swept off the side of a road.
“A boy was rescued from the car and a woman got out of the vehicle, but rescuers could not keep hold of her,” police said in a statement. “The woman was swept away in fast flowing flood waters.”
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, who just over a year ago was dealing with epic floods that swamped the state, sweeping away entire hamlets and flooding thousands of homes, has warned that the community faces dangerous new territory.
The New South Wales State Emergency Service (SES) said 16,550 people were stranded with the worst affected areas around Moree in the far north where floodwaters are expected to remain at their peak for one to two days.
“At this height the properties on the north side of the Mehi River in Moree will remain isolated with many properties surrounded by floodwater and some, possibly in excess of 300, inundated,” the service said.
SES Assistant Commissioner Andrew Edwards said although the rain was easing, the amount of flooding in the region and to the north meant that “we can expect these floods to be going on for months” in some pockets.
Australia suffered epic floods in late 2010 and in January last year which swamped a huge area of Queensland, inundated thousands of homes and businesses, swept away small villages and left more than 30 people dead.