BRISBANE, Australia – Almost a foot (300 millimeters) of rain in just a few hours renewed flood fears in Australia’s already waterlogged Queensland state Saturday, sending a surging river over its banks and into another large town.
Officials said about only 20 buildings in Maryborough, where about 22,000 people live, were expected to be flooded after the river burst its banks in the overnight downpour. The waters were expected to peak on Sunday.
“A number of businesses … will have floodwaters in their basements,” Mayor Mick Kruger said.
But the new flooding was a reminder that the state has almost no capacity to absorb more heavy rains after weeks of drenching tropical weather submerged an area the size of Germany and France combined.
Ten people have died since late November and about 200,000 have been affected by the floods. Roads and rail lines have been cut, Queensland’s big-exporting coal industry has virtually shut down, and cattle ranching and farming across a large part of the state are at a standstill.
While new rain is causing problems in some parts of the state, officials say a massive relief operation has moved from emergency operations to recovery, as the city of Rockhampton and other towns wait for waters to drop, and dozens of others begin the mopping up of sludge.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard flew Saturday to several towns cut off by floodwaters or partially underwater, and sought to reassure residents their towns would be restored in an operation led by an army general who said it might take years to fix all the damaged roads, rail lines and bridges.
“Until we see these floodwaters recede, we won’t see the true extent of the damage,” Gillard told reporters in the town of St. George.
Queensland Premier has said the price of rebuilding homes, businesses and infrastructure, coupled with economic losses, could be as high as $5 billion.
Floodwaters draining east toward the ocean were still rising in some places, such as St. George, where about 2,500 residents are bracing for the second major floods in less than a year.
St. George, one of a few towns where floodwaters were still rising, received a reprieve Saturday when forecasters said the waters would peak about 2 feet (60 centimeters) lower than previously thought, and threaten only about 10 homes.
“It gives us a flood peak that puts our mind at rest,” Mayor Donna Stewart said.
Australia’s worst flooding in some 50 years was caused by tropical rains that fell for days, starting just before Christmas. Some 1,200 homes were inundated and almost 11,000 more have water damage. Nearly 4,000 people were evacuated, and many are still staying with friends or in relief shelters.