Flooded city prepares for worst

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The flooded suburb of Depot Hill at Rockhampton, Australia (AP)

A flooded Australian coastal city braced itself for water levels to peak as authorities held an emergency meeting to draw up recovery plans for the 200,000 people hit by the deluge.

More than a week of pounding rains has left much of north-eastern Australia under a sea of muddy water that is making its way through river systems towards the ocean.

The swollen Fitzroy River was expected to reach the second-highest level on record in the largest affected community of Rockhampton before finally beginning to subside. Local media reports have said that 400 homes may be inundated and the river could remain above flood levels for at least a week.

The Fitzroy has already spilled over its banks, inundating houses and businesses in Rockhampton in waters covering the city streets 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 of 75,000 people were cut and only one main road remained open.

The flooding was already having an impact on Queensland’s economy, ruining crops and closing most mines. Floodwaters had made it impossible for 40 of the state’s coal mines to operate, ministers said at an emergency Cabinet meeting in the Queensland capital Brisbane.

“It’s going to take some months for some mines to be back to full operation,” resources minister Stephen Robertson said. “We earn round about 100 million dollars a day exporting coal to the rest of the world and exports have been significantly restricted by the impact on infrastructure.”

In other parts of the state, some flooded communities were beginning to dry out. In the town of Theodore, which evacuated all 300 residents last week, specialists arrived in helicopters to check the safety of power, water and sewage plants, county mayor John Hooper said.

Officials were still trying to determine when it would be safe to allow residents to return. One problem was an influx of venomous snakes, flushed from their habitats and searching for dry ground amid the waters.

“I’m hearing stories that it is bad,” Mr Hooper said. “And I’ve been told they’re (the snakes) bloody angry, so people will have to be very careful.”

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