More than 200,000 people have been affected by relentless flooding in north eastern Australia, with the flood zone now stretching over an area bigger than France and Germany combined.
Thousands of homes and businesses across Queensland state have been inundated with water after days of pounding rain caused swollen rivers to overflow.
The entire population of two towns was forced to evacuate as water swamped their communities, cutting off roads and devastating crops.
North eastern Australia often sees heavy rains and flooding during the Southern Hemisphere summer, but the scope of the damage from the recent downpours is extremely unusual, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said.
“This is without a doubt a tragedy on an unprecedented scale,” Ms Bligh said. “We now have 22 towns or cities that are either substantially flooded or isolated because the roads have been cut off to them. That represents some 200,000 people spanning an area that’s bigger than the size of France and Germany combined.”
Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes this week. In the central Queensland town of Emerald, around 1,000 people were evacuated in the last 24 hours.
The town was facing the prospect of food shortages, power outages and sewage-contaminated floodwaters, county mayor Peter Maguire said. Three evacuation centres have been set up to help displaced residents.
Weather across most of the state was drier on Friday, but river levels were still rising in some areas.
Ms Bligh warned that drenched communities could be stuck under water for more than a week, and clean-up efforts were expected to cost billions of dollars.
Rockhampton, a city near Queensland’s coast, was bracing for a deluge of river water heading its way. Roads and railway lines were expected to be cut off by Saturday, and the city’s airport planned to shut down over the weekend.