Australian police have confirmed two more deaths in the country’s flood crisis, as military flights fly food and other supplies to a major city slowly being cut off by floodwater.
Drenching rain that fell for days starting shortly before Christmas has produced floodwaters that now cover an area the size of France and Germany combined in north-eastern Queensland state. The waters have left rivers overflowing and inundated at least 22 towns and cities in the farming region.
In Rockhampton, a coastal city of about 75,000 people, waters from the still-swelling Fitzroy River have closed the airport and cut the main highway leading to the state capital of Brisbane. Scores of families have abandoned their homes for relief centres set up on high ground.
Residents have emptied supermarket shelves of food and bottled water in recent days as they stock up to reduce the need to get around in waist-deep waters.
Acting defence minister Warren Snowdon said a C-130 military cargo plane is flying to a town north of Rockhampton carrying food, medical supplies and other items that will then be driven to the stricken city. Another flight will follow on Tuesday if the highway into Rockhampton remains open.
Authorities have warned the Fitzroy will continue rising until late on Tuesday or early Wednesday. Mayor Brad Carter has said about 40% of the city could be affected by the surging waters, and residents could be forced to wait at least two weeks before returning home.
State authorities say about 200,000 people have been affected by the floods, Australia’s worst in a decade, and Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday extended emergency relief to those affected, including low-interest loans to farmers to begin cleaning up and get their businesses running again.
“This is a major natural disaster, and recovery will take a significant amount of time,” Ms Gillard said. The damage could ultimately amount to hundreds of millions of dollars, she added.
Three people have died in the flooding since Saturday, though police in Queensland state say seven other people have drowned in separate incidents involving swollen rivers and water accidents since tropical deluges began in late November.
Chief Superintendent Alistair Dawson said the latest victim was a man who drowned on Monday when the car he was travelling in was washed off a flooded causeway in the town of Aramac, in central Queensland. Earlier on Monday, police said they had recovered the body of a man who was last seen on Saturday when his small boat was swamped by raging waters in a different part of the state.