Floods that have cut air, rail and road links to an Australian coastal city are threatening its sewage plant and waters are still expected to rise another few feet before peaking on Wednesday.
Residents of Rockhampton made their way in boats through waters that reached waist-hight in some areas but were warned not to wade into the them since snakes and crocodiles could be lurking.
A huge inland sea spawned by more than a week of heavy rain across Queensland state is making its way along the Fitzroy River toward the ocean and Rockhampton lies in the way. As waters drain, the city of 75,000 people is expected to see flood levels rise another few feet by Wednesday.
The river has already burst its banks, inundating houses and businesses in waters ranging from a few inches to waist-deep. Up to 500 people who live along the river have evacuated their homes. Air and rail links to the city were cut and only one main road remained open.
Adding to the woes, Rockhampton Mayor Brad Carter said the flood waters were threatening Rockhampton’s sewage treatment plants and officials may seek to discharge some effluent directly into the swollen river system. He said this would only occur away from the city and the discharged sewage would be highly diluted, not posing a health risk.
Rockhampton is the latest of 22 cities and towns in Queensland to be swamped by floods that began building just before Christmas – the worst effects of an unusually wet summer in the tropical region. No one has died in Rockhampton, but swollen rivers and flooding have killed 10 people in Queensland since late November, police said.
Officials have said the flooded area covers the size of France and Germany combined and 200,000 people have been affected.
Mr Carter said residents have reported seeing a higher than usual number of snakes, as the animals move around looking for dry ground. “We do not think they are a risk to public safety if people keep out of the waters, but if people do enter the waters their safety cannot be guaranteed,” Mr Carter said.
A military cargo plane landed in a city north of Rockhampton on Monday carrying food, water, medical supplies and other items such as nappies to keep the city stocked with necessities.
The goods were trucked south to the city, or carried on barges. Further flights would continue as needed, acting Defence Minister Warren Snowdon said. Two navy helicopters were on standby to help. Other supplies were being brought by sea from areas south of Rockhampton, where regular supply routes may be closed for days to come.