More than 200,000 people have been affected by relentless flooding in northeast Australia, with the flood zone now stretching over an area bigger than France and Germany combined, officials said Friday.
Thousands of homes and businesses across Queensland State have been inundated with water after days of pounding rain caused swollen rivers to overflow. The entire population of two towns was forced to evacuate as water swamped their communities, cutting off roads and devastating crops.
Northeastern Australia often sees heavy rains and flooding during the Southern Hemisphere summer, but the scope of the damage from the recent downpours is extremely unusual, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said.
“This is without a doubt a tragedy on an unprecedented scale,” Ms. Bligh told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “We now have 22 towns or cities that are either substantially flooded or isolated because the roads have been cut off to them. That represents some 200,000 people spanning an area that’s bigger than the size of France and Germany combined.”
Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes this week. In the central Queensland town of Emerald, around 1,000 people were evacuated in the last 24 hours.
The town was facing the prospect of food shortages, power outages and sewage-contaminated floodwaters, county mayor Peter Maguire said. Three evacuation centres have been set up to help displaced residents.
Weather across most of the state was drier on Friday, but river levels were still rising in some areas.
Bligh warned that drenched communities could be stuck under water for more than a week, and cleanup efforts were expected to cost billions of dollars.
Rockhampton, a city near Queensland’s coast, was bracing for a deluge of river water heading its way. Roads and railway lines were expected to be cut off by Saturday, and the city’s airport planned to shut down over the weekend.
Officials were evacuating residents on Friday, starting with the elderly and those living in low-lying areas.
There were concerns over food supplies in the city, with many stores already sold out of bread, milk and fresh meat, Rockhampton Mayor Brad Carter said.
Gary Boyer, regional manager of supermarket chain Woolworths, said the company was sending 43 trucks full of supplies into Rockhampton on Friday.
Queensland launched a disaster relief fund for flood victims with 1 million Australian dollars ($1 million) in state money. Prime Minister Julia Gillard pledged to match that amount with federal funds.
Ms. Gillard was touring flooded communities on Friday, and planned to stop in Rockhampton later in the day.
Earlier, she toured the city of Bundaberg, where about 60 people have taken shelter at an evacuation centre.
Resident Sandy Kiddle told Ms. Gillard she lost cherished items after floodwaters surged through her house, and may not be able to return home for a week.
“It was just a sea of water and I thought the beach would never come to our house,” she told Ms. Gillard, who gave her a hug.