Floodwaters below predicted peak

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Floodwaters are seen in the Depot Hill district of Rockhampton, Australia (AP)

Floodwaters in a city on Australia’s north-eastern coast held steady below their predicted peak on Wednesday as people were warned they would face a long wait before the mess dries up.

Residents of the waterlogged city of Rockhampton, Queensland, were hopeful the Fitzroy River had swelled to its highest level, with the mayor saying the community appeared to have been spared any further damage.

Water from the river has already swamped 200 homes and 100 businesses while flooding elsewhere in north-eastern Australia has forced thousands to evacuate. “It looks like it may have stabilised,” mayor Brad Carter said.

More than a week of rain that started just before Christmas left much of north-eastern Australia under a sea of water that is making its way through river systems towards the ocean.

Around 1,200 homes in Queensland have been inundated, with another 10,700 suffering some damage, Queensland premier Anna Bligh confirmed. About 4,000 residents were evacuated from their homes in the flood-hit area, which is bigger in size than France and Germany combined.

The deluge has ruined crops, closed most of the state’s lucrative coal mines and caused “catastrophic” damage to transport systems, Ms Bligh told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

Ms Bligh said it is unclear what the financial cost of the flooding will be but the price tag is expected to run into billions of dollars. She added: “This is a disaster of an unprecedented scale and it will require an unparalleled rebuilding effort.”

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

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