5 Jan 2011

Flood-hit Rockhampton bracing for heavy rain

10:29 pm on 5 January 2011

The flood-stricken Australian coastal city of Rockhampton is bracing for heavy rain over the next few days.

Some 22 towns and cities in Queensland are surrounded or inundated throughout the state as the crisis continues.

Nine people have died and about 200,000 are directly affected by widespread flooding, which has caused billions of dollars of property damage. Crops have been wiped out and a dozen coal mines are waterlogged.

Floods covering an area of Queensland greater than France and Germany combined could remain for a week.

Rockhampton is already battling to cope with widespread flooding. The swollen Fitzroy River has inundated hundreds of homes and businesses in the city, and more rain is forecast from Thursday which may push river levels higher.

The river is holding steady at 9.2 metres on Wednesday and is unlikely to rise, although officially it is yet to peak, the ABC reports. Authorities expect it to remain above major flood levels for up to 10 days.

Emergency services are preparing for a massive task. Whole suburbs are flooded, most transport links have been cut off, the airport is shut and the Bruce Highway to the south is a lake.

Residents say they are having to deal with raw sewage, swarms of mosquitoes, power blackouts and even snakes in the floodwaters.

John Peacock says the water is too frightening to wade through. "It's a raging torrent. It's roaring down and it's very, very wide," he told the ABC.

"There's heaps of snakes at the moment in that water and I just knew if I went back to have a look and see if I could salvage anything that I was taking the risk of getting bitten."

Many people are seeking refuge in evacuation centres.

Evacuations continue in St George

St George, 550km to the southwest of Rockhampton, is isolated by floodwaters with 35 voluntary evacuations and continuing rises in the Balonne River.

People scrambled on Tuesday to build higher levees to hold out a record flood that is predicted to swamp 80% of the town.

The weather bureau says the river is likely to reach a record 14 metres at St George late on Sunday or Monday. The levees are being built up to 14.5 metres.

Balonne Shire mayor Donna Stewart believes their hard work will save all but about 30 houses.

The aged-care facility has been evacuated and its residents flown to Brisbane, Mr Dawson said.

The small town of Dirranbandi, southwest of St George, is also isolated, and will remain cut off for a month.

However, all the houses there have been saved by a levee bank that was built around the town's perimeter in February last year to protect the 540 residents from floods.

The towns of Theodore in central Queensland and Condamine in the southwest remain evacuated and isolated, but are being assessed on Wednesday.