The central Queensland city of Rockhampton is now completely isolated by floodwaters, Premier Anna Bligh says.
Hundreds of homes have been inundated and people have been forced to evacuate ahead of the Fitzroy River’s expected peak of 9.4 metres on Wednesday.
The floods have also claimed the lives of 10 people since they began. The most recent tragedy was on Monday morning when a man was found dead inside a car trapped in a flooded river at Aramac, inland from Rockhampton.
Three Army Black Hawk helicopters have also been relocated to Rockhampton from Emerald as water snakes toward the CBD.
Ms Bligh told ABC TV’s 7.30 Report that the last route out of town – the highway to the north of the city – is now under water, completely stranding the city’s 75,000 residents.
The airport was closed days ago after the tarmac became flooded and no rail services are operating.
“We’re really still in the middle of an unfolding disaster,” she said.
“That means not only are there supply issues for Rockhampton, but of course [for] towns like Mackay, Townsville and Cairns that are north of there.
“The Australian Defence Force this morning started flights with C-130s out of [RAAF] Amberley to resupply food, taking it into Mackay and then driving it down into Rockhampton.
“Keeping these towns supplied while they are cut off is one of our main priorities right now.”
Ms Bligh says the clean-up efforts in flood-ravaged towns are going to be a mammoth task that will continue for a long time.
“We have some towns and cities now starting the heart-breaking business of clean-up and recovery, while we’re still in response mode in places like Rockhampton, St George and in that south-west area,” she said.
“As we turn to recovery there’s certainly some big logistical issues. The city of Emerald, for example, we flew 13 tonnes of cleaning equipment and disinfectant in there this morning and they need more. So that’s just one town.
“I expect to see this unfold for months, frankly. Once the water goes down there is still a lot of work to be done.”
She has warned residents returning to their homes that they must not do so until it is absolutely safe.
“People cannot go back into their homes until they’ve been certified as safe by an electrician, for obvious reasons,” she said.
“But they will then need – if they’ve been inundated – to have those homes often rebuilt completely from the inside.
“These are wooden Queenslanders – old homes in many cases. They’ll need to have their walls stripped, their kitchens replaced; otherwise it would all be mould.
“There’s a lot of work and it’s a big rebuilding program, and some of them (the residents) … will not be back in their homes for months.
“Our job is to rebuild regional Queensland and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Federal Government has already predicted the clean-up cost will run into the millions of dollars.
The state and federal governments have announced new assistance packages.
Farmers and small businesses hit hard by the floods will be eligible for grants of up to $25,000 to assist with the clean-up and recovery.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the New Zealand and United States governments have offered their assistance.
She says New Zealand prime minister John Key contacted her to offer support and the US embassy in Canberra has also passed on an offer of assistance.
But Ms Gillard says international aid is not necessary yet.
“I know the Premier of Queensland has been in contact with a number of her counterparts and other states are going to provide assistance as necessary,” she said.
“At the moment, through our own Australian resources, we can manage these circumstances.”