Floods covering an area the size of France and Germany combined submerged the Capricorn Highway, the major traffic artery through Queensland state. High waters surged into homes in the sinking town of Rockhampton, sending furniture and refrigerators cascading down torrents of floodwater.
Storm warnings were issued in southern Queensland late on Monday, with heavy rain and new flash floods forecast.
Motorists were told to avoid flooded roads after a man drowned in central Queensland – bringing to two the official death toll in what state Treasurer Andrew Fraser called a “disaster of biblical proportions.”
Floodwaters have brought most coal mining operations to a halt in Queensland — the state exporting the majority of the coking coal produced in Australia. Sugar cane production was also hit as was — to a lesser extent — the grain harvest.
The state’s premier said recovery would take weeks.
Rockhampton, a community of 77,000 just off the Pacific coast and 600 km (370 miles) north of the state capital Brisbane, was accessible mainly by emergency services boats.
Rescue workers escorted stranded patients out of hospitals, police ordered reluctant residents to leave their homes, and electricity company teams made their way up to abandoned homes to ensure power was switched off. Reuters