Floods that ravaged Australia’s north east and swamped a major city could be the country’s most expensive natural disaster ever, the government has said.
Three weeks of flooding have already torn a devastating path through the state of Queensland, and water has now begun to inundate the streets of rural communities in Victoria.
The region’s key Murray-Darling river basin links Queensland with New South Wales and Victoria to the south, and drains into the sea via South Australia on the south-central coast.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said that the bodies of two more flood victims had been found on Monday, bringing the death toll from the disaster to 30, most of whom died in a flash flood that hit towns west of Brisbane last week.
The price tag from the relentless floods was already at $5 billion (£3 billion) before muddy brown waters swamped Brisbane, inundating 30,000 homes and businesses.
“It looks like this is possibly going to be, in economic terms, the largest natural disaster in our history,” federal Treasurer Wayne Swan told Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio on Monday. “It will involve billions of dollars of commonwealth money and also state government money, and there’s going to be impacts on local governments as well.”
Victoria State Emergency Services spokeswoman Natasha Duckett warned that the town of Horsham could face a major flood during Tuesday’s expected peak of the Wimmera River, and electricity supplier Powercor brought in sandbags to protect its substation there to ensure it remained dry.
“The township could be bisected with a waterway right through the middle of town and the (Western) Highway cut,” Duckett said.
Up to 500 properties in the town of about 14,000 people could be affected, and Horsham municipal emergency resources officer David Eltringham said the town was expecting “a one-in-a-100-year flood.”
More than 3,500 people have evacuated their homes in north-central Victoria state, with 43 towns and 1,500 properties already affected by rising waters. Flooding has also hit New South Wales, where nearly 7,000 people are reliant on airdrops of food and other supplies after being isolated by floodwaters.