Queensland floods lead to mass evacuation


THE WORST flooding seen in decades has led to about 1,000 people in Queensland, Australia, being evacuated from their homes, including the entire population of the town of Theodore.

Queensland’s state government has declared Theodore and two other towns disaster zones, as wild weather continues to cause havoc and massive economic damage across the region.

Australian defence forces Black Hawk helicopters were used to evacuate Theodore’s 300 residents. Every building in the town, apart from the police station, was flooded.

State premier Anna Bligh cut short her Christmas holiday to launch a national appeal to help flood victims after visiting affected areas yesterday. Her government and the federal government have each donated A$1 million (€760,000) to the fund.

Australian prime minister Julia Gillard said 38 communities would be eligible for special assistance and hardship payments through the fund.

“We won’t know until floodwaters recede the total amount of damage done, but what this does mean is that the Queensland and federal governments will work together in those areas in partnership with the rebuilding of critical infrastructure,” she said.

Ms Gillard is due to visit flood-affected areas in the coming days.

“We want to make those arrangements so I’m there at the right time. Many communities’ efforts right now are on preparing for what will be the peak of the floodwaters or directly battling the floods.”

Forecasters say the floods have not yet peaked, and parts of the southern Queensland city of Bundaberg were being evacuated last night.

Emerald, in the state’s central highlands, has been cut off, with floodwaters forcing the closure of the town’s main bridge yesterday afternoon.

Helicopters are on standby to bring supplies to the town and the Red Cross is flying in dozens of staff to work in three evacuation centres that have been established.

Emerald resident Phil Millin told Australian radio that the town was expecting the worst. “I’m on a hill, but there’s a lot of people that aren’t. They’re all preparing at the moment for the worst on their houses,” he said.

“Some of them are putting plastic up around the houses and putting sand around them and things like that. Everyone’s preparing – they’re getting everything up off the floor and packing it all high. Hopefully it won’t go as high ... but nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen.”

The cost of the floods is expected to be at least A$1 billion (€760 million), including huge losses for cotton and sunflower farms. One economist estimated that the damage could take 0.5 per cent off Australia’s gross national product.

With crops such as bananas, tomatoes, mangoes and many others grown in the flood-affected areas, Australian fruit and vegetable prices may rise by as much as 50 per cent in the coming weeks.

Farming group AgForce estimates 50 per cent of Queensland’s crops have been affected by heavy rain, and that the yield will be down by about 20 per cent.

AgForce spokesman Kim Bremner, who is also a cotton farmer, said his personal losses could be up to A$600,000 (€456,000).

“It’s like banging your head against a brick wall. You’re still alive but feeling the pain all the time,” he said. “The big worry now is if we get more rain.”

The floods are also affecting Queensland’s huge mining industry. Coal export terminals at Dalrymple Bay and Gladstone are cutting back on operations while the floods continue.

Rio Tinto, the world’s third-largest mining company, declared force majeure (unforeseeable circumstances) at four Queensland coal mines, allowing it to miss delivery times due to circumstances beyond its control.