Australia: Devastating floods in Queensland and north western New South Wales
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has compared the flood-ravaged streets of Moree to the canals of Venice, and the area surrounding the township to an inland sea.
Mr O’Farrell and Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner visited the north-western NSW town this morning to see first-hand how locals and emergency service workers were coping with the inundation.
The Mehi River this morning peaked at levels not seen since 1976, cutting the town in two and flooding some businesses in CBD after reaching 10.65 metres.
“From the air it looks like an inland sea”, Mr O’Farrell said.
Emergency services are using helicopters to evacuate people from the worst hit areas although in Maranoa, Queensland there were reports that choppers were struggling to get off the gorund due to heavy cloud.
“The town of Moree is inundated with water – so north Moree is not only cut off, but many of the properties there are flooded,” he said after touring the town.
“It is an extraordinary landscape, but the great thing is resilient residents in the north west of NSW are getting on with life, and as the mayor (Katrina Humphries) says, will cope.”
About 1600 people from homes in North Moree have been evacuated, while 680 people have left their homes in Pallamallawa and Biniguy, east of Moree, as the Gwydir River floods, the State Emergency Service says.
More than 11,000 people are isolated across the state and more than 2200 spent the night in evacuation centres as flooding that has affected the region for 10 days shows no sign of easing.
Mr O’Farrell said while the Mehi River had peaked, the water would not recede for days.
“The bad news is they say that peak may stay in place for two to three days,” he said.
“Families, businesses, farmers are suffering, and what the SES is saying is that this water is not going to recede in a hurry.”
In Queensland families on stations around the southwest Queensland town of Mitchell are being airlifted to higher ground as flood levels continue to rise.
Maranoa Mayor Robert Loughnan says choppers had trouble getting off the ground today because of heavy cloud and a larger helicopter was being brought in to help with evacuations.
“We have a number of missions we want done and we know of a number of properties around Mitchell where people are very concerned for their safety,” he told AAP.
“An emergency Queensland helicopter is on the way, it’s bigger and better able to handle the adverse conditions.”
Mr Loughnan said around half the houses in Mitchell now had water through them.
The Maranoa River at Mitchell reached 9.59 metres on Friday morning but Premier Anna Bligh said it could top 10 metres which would be a new record for the town.
Ms Bligh said 192 people are in the town’s evacuation centre and the hospital has been evacuated.
“We are in new territory here. The water coming through is breaking records for this region,” she said.
“Five schools have been closed, including Mitchell SS which was converted into an evacuation centre overnight and the Department is keeping a close watch on 10 other schools.”
The Premier said five long-stay aged care patients were moved to the Maranoa Retirement Village and three acute patients were evacuated from Mitchell.
“Two pregnant women have also been evacuated from Mitchell to Roma although the Mitchell Hospital’s emergency unit remains open and staffed for any patients seeking care.”
Ms Bligh said joint state and federal government disaster relief and recovery arrangements have been activated in 11 local government areas.
“Almost 100 roads are closed across the state and three major rail lines – The Mount Isa, The Western Line and Central Line closed – the Westlander, Inlander and Spirit of the Outback services are affected,” she said.
Mr Loughnan said 100 homes in Mitchell are expected to be inundated this evening.
“It’ll be a struggle for them and also here in Roma today – this is a major event and the fact that Roma’s been through this three times now in the past three years doesn’t make it any easier for people.”
Mr Loughnan said people in Roma are being warned to prepare their homes and move to higher ground with the flood peak expected on tonight.
Early predictions from the weather bureau of a peak around 7.5 metres have been pushed up.
“In a telephone hookup we just had with the Premier and others they’ve revised that and they say it could be closer to the 2010 level of 8.1 metres.
“It’s at 6.6 now and rising pretty rapidly.”
The mayor said in the past couple of years one or two catchments fed local flooding but this time the situation is worse.
“In this case we’ve got every single catchment upstream from Roma contributing to the situation and it’s the same in Mitchell.
“It’s chockers all the way up – they had four inches (100mm) last night and there’s just nowhere for the water to go – it’s not going to go up and down in half a day it’s going to hang around for quite a while until it drains.”
The Department of Community Safety (DCS) said floodwaters from Mitchell will impact St George in coming days, but the Balonne River is now expected to peak at 13.6 metres, down from the earlier prediction of 14 metres.
Extra State Emergency Service (SES) and Emergency Management Qld (EMQ) crews will arrive in Roma and St George on Friday or Saturday.
A Special Operations unit from Qld Ambulance which includes medical supplies and a tactical medical centre is being established in St George with six relief paramedics from the special response team deployed in Roma to help locals and people in Mitchell.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott described the floods in NSW and Queensland as devastating.
“Obviously all Australians’ hearts are with the people in those areas who are now, yet again, flood impacted.”
Mr Abbott said he had spoken to local members in the affected areas who were helping to prepare against the worst of the floodwaters.
“It’s very important that all Australians do what they can to help our fellow Australians in need,” he told reporters in Sydney.
NSW Transport Management Centre spokesman David Wright said major roads will “remain closed until further notice” and has advised motorists to take alternative routes to avoid flood-affected areas.
“Motorists are advised to avoid all non-essential travel in flood affected areas of NSW,” Mr Wright said. “When driving exercise extreme caution.”