East coast Australia’s water torture worsened Monday with the city of Rockhampton completely cut off by floodwaters two days before the swollen Fitzroy River was expected to reach its peak.
“The highway is cut at Rockhampton,” Queensland state premier Anna Bligh said. “Rockhampton is now completely stranded -- a town of 75,000 people -- no airport, road or rail.” Mayor Rod Carter assured residents that the Defence Force had ferried in enough food, drinking water and medical supplies for an emergency that could carry into next week.
Colonel Luke Foster, in charge of the airlift, said Hercules transport planes had brought in enough supplies before the last road link, the Bruce Highway, was severed.
“We’ll continue to monitor the circumstances as they emerge and as they change,” Foster said, promising that seven helicopters would be stationed in Rockhampton.
Queensland is reeling from the worst flooding in the state in 50 years, with 22 towns besieged by water and 200,000 people affected.
A man died when his car was swept off a causeway, the third death since Christmas put down to a flood crisis that extends over an area the size of France and Germany combined.
The rising waters knocked out Rockhampton’s airport on Saturday and Carter said “we expect to have our airport closed for the best part of three weeks.” The Fitzroy River is projected to peak on Wednesday.
“Many Rockhampton residents will recall the devastating floods of 1991 and 1954,” Bligh said. “These river peaks are at those historical levels and unfortunately it’ll be a long time before this massive amount of water recedes.” She said 150 houses had been inundated and 1,000 more had water lapping up to their steps. If flood projections are correct, 400 houses could have water above their floorboards before the floodwaters sluice out into the Pacific Ocean.
Bligh has come under fire for flying to Sydney to spend New Year’s Eve watching the firework display just hours after telling Queenslanders that the state she runs was facing one of the worst natural disasters in Australia’s history.
Carter urged residents who worried their houses would flood to go to the evacuation centres or to move in with family or friends whose houses were on higher ground.
“If the police tap you on the shoulder and tell you you have to shift, that’s a lawful direction,” the mayor said. “We’re doing that as compassionately as we can, but once that direction is given, there’s no turning back -- you have to evacuate your home.” Bligh conceded that the ramifications of having an area the size of France and Germany under water would spread beyond Australia’s borders.
“There’s likely to be a significant long-term effect of that and not only nationally but internationally,” she said.
Queensland coal fields produce half the world’s supply of coal for making steel and three-quarters of them are stalled by the floods.
Macquarie Group, Australia’s biggest investment bank, warned that the spot price for metallurgical coal would likely rise to 300 US dollars a ton from 246 US dollars.
“There is a strong chance that 2011 could prove worse than 2008 when 7-8 million tons of metallurgical coal were lost due to flooding in Queensland,” Macquarie said in a statement.