9 Jan 2011

Australian PM warns of slow flood recovery

10:56 am on 9 January 2011

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has pledged financial support for the flooded northeast of the country.

During her tour on Saturday of the most heavily inundated parts of Queensland, Ms Gillard warned recovery would be slow.

Asked how much it would cost Australia's federal government, she said it would be "hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars."

The floods have swamped coal mines and hit agriculture hard, washed away roads and railways, killed four people, and brought the country's coal export industry to a near standstill.

Some river levels have hit records and some are still rising with further rain forecast for this weekend. Months more wet weather is predicted, brought by the La Nina weather pattern.

Thousands have been evacuated from their homes, and in many towns locals and relief workers are getting around the streets in boats. Authorities say around 200,000 people have been affected.

Ms Gillard pledged funding to help improve flood protection for Rockhampton, a town of around 75,000 people.

Rendering some highways flood-proof would be a priority, she said, after the state's major rail and road links were seriously disrupted and in some cases washed away.

Earlier in the flooded town of St George, 450 km west of Brisbane, Gillard said $A4 million in emergency payments had already been paid and more was on the way to help families in need.

On Saturday a fourth person was confirmed dead in the latest flooding, a 55-year-old truck driver whose truck veered off a road while transporting water to the inundated town of Condamine.

The man tasked with overseeing the recovery, Major General Mick Slater, has warned it is likely to take years and said the damage cannot be properly assessed until the waters recede. While travelling with Ms Gillard on Saturday, he said the crisis was "not over yet".

Flood warnings were in place on Saturday for more than 10 rivers in Queensland.