Residents of an Australian city cut off by some of the country’s worst flooding in decades are being warned to stay out of the water, and not just because of the risk of being swept away – debris, snakes and even crocodiles could also pose a danger.
Large parts of the coastal city of Rockhampton were underwater and the level was still rising, with the 75,000-strong population bracing for the floods’ expected peak in the next 24 hours as a huge inland sea spawned by heavy rain across Queensland state drains towards the sea.
Up to 500 people have been evacuated from their homes along the Fitzroy River, which runs through the city and has spilled over its banks and inundated houses and businesses in waters ranging from a few inches to waist-deep. Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh said all air, rail and road links to the city had been cut – though local officials said later one highway heading north was still open.
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. Swollen rivers and flooding have killed 10 people in Queensland since late November, police say.
Officials have said the flooded area covers the size of France and Germany combined.
Authorities have warned residents to stay out of floodwaters for their own safety, saying the biggest risk is from fast-moving currents powerful enough to sweep cars from roadways – at least two people have drowned after being swept away in their cars.
Rockhampton Mayor Brad Carter has also said residents have reported higher than usual numbers of snakes being seen, as the animals move around looking for dry ground. He has also noted that saltwater crocodiles have been spotted from time to time in the Fitzroy River.
“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,” Carter was quoted as saying in The Australian newspaper.
Animal welfare worker Wendy Hilcher said fears about snakes and crocodiles were hampering her group’s efforts to rescue pets left behind by people who had left their homes in flooded areas of the city.
“It’s not just the safety aspect of getting to these places, it’s what’s in the water itself,” Hilcher, from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said. “If it gets too dangerous, we have to get out of there.”