New thunderstorms brought more pounding rains to a waterlogged coastal community in northeastern Australia on Thursday, as the mayor of one city said it could take a year to fully recover from the worst flooding in decades.
The good news for the nearly 200,000 exhausted flood victims is that the crisis finally appeared to be easing.
Despite the fresh rains, an overflowing river in the inundated city of Rockhampton began slowly receding Thursday. The swollen Fitzroy River has spilled onto 3,000 properties throughout the city, leaving 200 homes with muddy water above the floorboards.
Four thousand people across Queensland have been evacuated from their homes since pounding rains that began just before Christmas left much of the region under a sea of water. Around 1,200 homes have been inundated, with another 10,700 suffering some damage in the flood zone, which spans an area greater than France and Germany combined.
Rains across Queensland on Thursday were frustrating cleanup crews and residents eager to return home. In Rockhampton, however, Bureau of Meteorology hydrologist Ian Rocca said the rainfall was not expected to push water levels higher in the Fitzroy River.
“It’s very good news,” Mayor Brad Carter told Nine Network. “It looks like it’s peaked, it’s plateaued and it’s showing signs of dropping.”
Still, Carter warned that the city of 75,000 was in for a long recovery period, with 500 evacuated residents being urged to stay away for at least two more weeks. A full cleanup of homes and businesses with water damage would take much longer, he said.
“I think that this could drag on for 12 months,” he said.
Elsewhere in Queensland, some communities were beginning the slow process of mopping up, while others were preparing for another deluge.
The southern Queensland town of St. George, which was devastated by a flood last March, was expecting its Balonne River to peak early next week. About 10,000 sandbags had been packed and more were being filled Thursday to protect the homes of the 2,500 residents.
But there was some good news. The Bureau of Meteorology said Thursday that the river was expected to peak below its earlier predicted level, meaning fewer than 30 homes faced water damage.
In Bundaberg, south of Rockhampton, about half of the city’s 170 inundated homes have already been cleaned out. Flood waters dropped quickly this week, though the new thunderstorms were causing some anxiety, Mayor Lorraine Pyefinch said.
“Most of the affected areas are now out of the water and we have work crews out, clearing and collecting debris and ruined possessions from people’s homes and businesses,” she said.
In the state’s southwest, the 150 residents of the tiny community of Condamine had hoped to return home Thursday, a week after they were airlifted to safety when the Condamine River inundated 42 of the 60 homes.
But a storm that rolled in Wednesday afternoon has shut down highways and the forecast for rain through the weekend could delay their return.
The town has no electricity nor running water, and the schools and churches are also under water.
“The damage is extremely significant, it’s as simple as that,” Western Downs Regional Mayor Ray Brown said. “On the scale of devastation, on a percentage, it’s a massive impact.”
He said residents would be taken by bus to survey the damage if the rain let up Thursday.