Soaked Northern Australia Braces For More Rain

Thursday, February 5th 2009, 6:24 am
By: News On 6

SYDNEY – Sodden residents of northeastern Australia were trying to clean up from weeks of rain that have left more than half of their state — and area twice the size of Spain — under water.

Still, forecasters on Thursday delivered some good news: Two offshore storms were unlikely to develop into cyclones.

The main cities on northern Queensland's coast, Townsville and Cairns, were flooded in January storms and are still receiving daily rain. The main highways to Townsville were cut off by water.

A 42-year-old man in the town of Watsonville was rescued late Wednesday night after clinging to a tree near a swollen creek for more than three hours. He was treated for minor injuries.

The small town of Ingham has been hardest hit, with 2,900 homes damaged or flooded in a weekend storm and hundreds of people evacuated.

Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts told Australian Broadcasting Corp. after visiting Ingham that residents are "living in a swimming pool."

Television footage showed muddy water filling the streets and people using small boats to get around town.

But the Bureau of Meteorology said a strong storm north of Queensland state and another low pressure system just north of Ingham were unlikely to develop into cyclones and should move south. Though before doing so, they would likely drop enough precipitation to delay a drop in river levels.

"It's still really wet in this area so extra rainfall will cause trouble," said bureau forecaster Brett Harrison.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told Parliament on Thursday that state and federal governments were providing money for food, accommodation and hardship grants and that a federal disaster response plan had been activated to enlist military aircraft to transport aviation fuel where it was needed.

More than 60 percent of Queensland state is under water and eligible for disaster relief.

On Thursday, river levels were beginning to fall in some parts of Queensland state while emergency workers continued to evacuate people left stranded.

State emergency workers have come from across the state to help clean up, but crews are waiting for the Herbert River to drop below 23 feet (seven meters) before the mop-up can begin in earnest. Weather officials said flood levels in the river had fallen just slightly from a peak of 40 feet (12.2 meters).

Resident Fred Marolla said his family had lost most of their appliances and other essentials.

"We've lost a fridge, washing machine, freezer. We've lost a TV, we lost furniture," he said.

Residents have also been warned about crocodiles and snakes roaming flooded streets and yards.

November to April is tropical cyclone season in northern Australia and overflowing rivers and heavy rainstorms are normal. The Bureau of Meteorology has predicted above-normal monsoonal activity this season.

Cane growers in north Queensland are waiting anxiously as rising floodwaters threaten to reduce this year's crop. The state produces about 95 percent of Australia's raw sugar. The government said storms have caused an estimated 109 million Australian dollars ($69.5 million) in damage since late December.

In stark contrast to the wet weather in the north, cities in southern Australia have been sweltering through record-breaking heat waves in recent weeks.

Temperatures in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide have ranged from 91 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit (33 to 45 degrees Celsius) in the past few weeks, causing deaths and brushfires.