Relief Flights Help Flood-affected Australian City as Toll Rises
Military flights rushed Monday to restock the Australian city of Brisbane before it is cut off by floodwaters that have turned a huge swath of the Outback into a lake, while police confirmed two more deaths in the crisis.
The death toll from some of Australia's worst flooding in a decade is three since Saturday, though police in Queensland state say several other people have drowned in separate incidents involving swollen rivers and water accidents since tropical deluges began in late November. In total, 10 people have died, police said Monday.
Chief Superintendent Alistair Dawson said the latest victim was a man who drowned on Monday when the car he was traveling in was washed off a flooded causeway in the town of Aramac, in central Queensland.
Earlier Monday, police said in a statement they had recovered the body of a man who was last seen on Saturday as his small boat was swamped by raging river waters in a different part of the state. In a separate incident also on Saturday, a 41-year-old woman was swept to her death in front of her family as her car crossed a swamped causeway.
Drenching rain that fell for days starting shortly before Christmas have produced floodwaters that now cover an area the size of France and Germany combined in northeastern Queensland. The waters have filled rivers to overflowing and inundated at least 22 towns and cities in the cattle and fruit and vegetable farming region, as they drain slowly toward the coast.
State authorities say about 200,000 people have been affected by the floods, 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," Gillard said. The damage could ultimately amount to hundreds of millions of dollars, she told reporters.
In Rockhampton, a coastal city of about 75,000 people, waters from the still-swelling Fitzroy River closed the airport and cut the main highway leading to the state capital of Brisbane.
Scores of families abandoned their homes for relief centers set up on high ground. Mayor Brad Carter has said about 40 percent of the city could be affected by the surging waters, and residents could be forced to wait at least two weeks before returning home.
Authorities warned the Fitzroy would continue rising until late Tuesday or early Wednesday local time, cutting the northern road approach to the city as well.
Residents emptied supermarket shelves of food and bottled water in recent days as they stocked up to reduce the need to get around in waist-deep waters.
Acting Defense Minister Warren Snowdon said a C-130 military cargo plane would fly on Monday to a town north of Rockhampton carrying food, medical supplies and other items that would then be trucked to the stricken city. Another flight would follow on Tuesday if the highway into Rockhampton remained open.
Police rejected reports that some break-ins reported on cars and homes in Rockhampton overnight Sunday were incidents of looting related to the floods, saying a handful of burglaries were normal for the city.
"Unfortunately property offenses within larger provincial centers such as Rockhampton do happen whether the area is flooded or not," local police Superintendent Mike Curtin said. "The offenses that occurred last night were not looting."
Police have increased their patrols of flooded towns — television footage and news photographs showed uniformed officers wading thigh-deep through floodwaters — to prevent trouble.
The rains that triggered the flooding have eased, and water levels were dropping in some towns. But officials said about 1,000 people were living in evacuation centers across Queensland, and it may be a month before the floodwaters dry up completely.