General will lead flood recovery

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

Australia has put an army general in charge of flood recovery efforts after weeks of heavy rains deluged the north east, crippling the area’s economy, including the coal mining industry.

Floodwaters have forced most of Queensland state’s coal mines to shut and some may not restart production for months, ministers said at an emergency Cabinet meeting in Brisbane.

After the meeting, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh announced that Major General Mick Slater would lead the recovery effort of floods that have affected 200,000 people and are estimated to cost billions of pounds in repairs.

Ms Bligh said: “This is a disaster on an unprecedented scale and it will require an unparalleled rebuilding effort. If you count everything from the cost to homes, the home rebuilding effort, public infrastructure rebuilding effort and economic loss, I think we’re well above 5 billion-dollar (£3.2 billion) territory.”

The deluge has also ruined crops and caused “catastrophic” damage to Queensland’s transport systems, Ms Bligh told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

Queensland is a centre of Australia’s coal mining industry and 40 mines have been shut because of the flooding.

Resources minister Stephen Robertson said: “It’s going to take some months for some mines to be back to full operation. We earn around 100 million dollars (£64 million) a day exporting coal to the rest of the world and exports have been significantly restricted by the impact on infrastructure.”

More than a week of pounding rains 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. About 4,000 residents have been evacuated from their homes in the flood zone, which spans an area greater than France and Germany combined.

The coastal city of Rockhampton has been particularly hit and exhausted residents have been warned they would face a long wait before the mess dries up.

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