Aerial photography Moree, Australia 03 Feb 2012
Australia TILTING and BACKWASHING:
/ Rising Australian floodwaters force mass evacuation.
Thousands of Australians were forced to abandon their homes on Sunday as a record deluge swept through areas still reeling from last year's devastating floods, claiming its first life. Police ordered the 3,800 residents of the town of St George, in northern Queensland state, to evacuate as rising floodwaters raced towards record heights, threatening to cut the one remaining exit road. /
/ A SWATHE of Queensland towns have been hit by record volumes of water tearing across the state's southwest - but the worst could be yet to come. /
/ Qld floods leave one dead, town evacuated
The gravity of southwest Queensland's floods is sinking in, with residents of a whole town being forced to evacuate and the discovery of a body swept away two days ago. /
/ Queensland's floodwaters move downstream to New South Wales.
But the biggest concern now is the massive volume of floodwater heading south from Queensland.
MOST Moree residents should be back in their own beds by Sunday night, but the nightmare could only just be starting in other parts of northern NSW as Queensland floodwaters surge across the border. A virtual inland sea still isolates some 6500 people in the communities of Wee Waa, Goodooga and Gravesend. /
/ Qld floods worsen, evacuations begin. Mayor Donna Stewart said the Balonne River has risen faster than expected and is likely to eclipse record levels by mid-Monday, and could keep on rising. /
/ Southern Qld town evacuated as river rises
Residents in St George have been advised to evacuate the southern Queensland town as the Balonne River continues to rise rapidly. /
Aeril view Image:
Queensland's floodwaters move downstream to New South Wales
MOST Moree residents should be back in their own beds by Sunday night, but the nightmare could only just be starting in other parts of northern NSW as Queensland floodwaters surge across the border.
A virtual inland sea still isolates some 6500 people in the communities of Wee Waa, Goodooga and Gravesend.
But State Emergency Service (SES) spokeswoman Erin Pogmore said levels in the area were dropping quickly as the water starts moving downstream.
"The weather seems to be easing a bit so we are expecting that their conditions will start to improve," Ms Pogmore said.
"They will start to get some relief while the waters move into other communities like Walgett."
In Moree, around 1100 people expect to be allowed to return to their homes tonight after spending three nights in evacuation centres.
"The level is dropping very quickly in the area and they will be able to lift the evacuation orders later today," Ms Pogmore said.
But for for around 300 locals whose floors are underwater, the wait could be much longer.
"They have extensive cleaning to do and hosing out of the houses before they can go back," Ms Pogmore said.
Volunteers, the Rural Fire Service and others are helping locals mop up after the region's worst flood in 35 years.
But the biggest concern now is the massive volume of floodwater heading south from Queensland.
By mid-February it could swamp communities further inland such as Mungindi, Walgett, Bourke, Collarenebri and Brewarrina.
Authorities have already begun planning to make sure everyone in these areas have supplies.
Ms Pogmore said it was not yet known if Moree could also be "topped up" by the slow moving floodwaters.
"There could be possible isolation and flooding again. There is a lot of water coming down from Queensland and those catchments are already very wet," she said.
"We are keeping an eye on exactly where those floodwater are travelling to and the impact it will have on those communities."
NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell on Saturday told Prime Minister Julia Gillard the crisis was far from over.
Qld floods worsen, evacuations begin
Residents of St George, in southwest Queensland, have been told to evacuate the town ahead of expected record floodwaters.
Balonne Shire Council advised residents on Sunday morning to leave via the Moonie Highway while access remains open.
Mayor Donna Stewart said the Balonne River has risen faster than expected and is likely to eclipse record levels by mid-Monday, and could keep on rising.
She urged everyone to register with the Red Cross once they have evacuated.
Ms Stewart said time had run out to complete a temporary levee and that authorities are considering forced evacuations for the town's 2500 residents.
The flood that engulfed the town in 2010 peaked at about 13.5 metres but the current flood is estimated to reach at least 14 metres.
Ms Stewart she would discuss the possible forced evacuations with Premier Anna Bligh, who flew to St George on Sunday morning.
'We're very much watching the Bureau of Meteorology on what they predict and we will be making a call (on forced evacuations) when we have that meeting (with Ms Bligh),' Ms Stewart told ABC Radio.
Nationals Senator and resident of St George, Barnaby Joyce, said while the town was used to flooding, what was expected was far worse than previous incidents.
'If we have to evacuate the town, that is a whole new step,' he said.
'That would be extremely traumatic for many people.'
Queensland's disaster co-ordinator earlier said the flood threat in southwest Queensland had deteriorated.
Earlier on Sunday, Queensland police deputy commissioner Ian Stewart said it was likely most of St George and neighbouring towns would be evacuated.
'There are very large volumes of water in those systems getting to record levels as the predictions are currently telling us,' he said.
'Whilst there is some time to make these arrangements due to the water flows, certainly we are taking very seriously the potential for mass evacuations in that area so that people are absolutely safe from this very large scale event.'
But he said there was some encouraging news from embattled Charleville where the flood situation eased overnight.
'We are more confident that there will now be no breach of the levee system and the water slowly will dissipate in the systems out further,' Mr Stewart said.
On Saturday, there had been fears the levees protecting Charleville might be breached, flooding the town.
The latest Bureau of Meteorology figures showed the Warrego River easing slowly at 7.65m at 6.20am (AEDT).
A temporary levee was being built in St George on Sunday morning, while further north in Mitchell and Roma, floodwaters have receded, leaving residents with the task of cleaning up.
Charleville mayor Mark O'Brien said emergency crews working on the temporary levee to protect the town from the Warrego River were doing everything they could to ensure it held.
'They said 'we're going to beat this' and I thought 'that is the Charleville spirit',' he told ABC Radio.
'We've done this so many times. We've got this levee bank and the whole community is going to make it work.'
Southern Qld town evacuated as river rises
Residents in St George have been advised to evacuate the southern Queensland town as the Balonne River continues to rise rapidly.
Mayor Donna Stewart says authorities have run out of time to complete a temporary levee and the town's 2,000 residents should leave via the Moonie Highway.
"We don't know how long that will stay open due to the unprecedented amount of water in both the Maranoa and the Balonne river systems coming together," she said.
"So we are encouraging people to self evacuate as quickly as possible whilst we are able to."
The weather bureau says the situation in the town is critical.
Premier Anna Bligh has flown to St George and met with the town's disaster coordinators as authorities consider forced evacuations.
Elderly residents from the local nursing home have already been flown to the Gold Coast.
Hydrologist Peter Baddiley says a record flood was always expected in St George, but it is coming faster than had been forecast.
"[The river in] St George itself will rise fairly rapidly now for the next 24 hours to 36 hours," he said.
"The final peak, a record flood peak won't be until Tuesday. It's a little early to call just how high it'll be but potentially over 14 metres."
George resident Drew Cutler says his earth moving business is helping to build a flood levy.
He plans to stay in town for now but says many residents are heeding the warnings to leave.
"I think after yesterday's emergency evacuation message that everyone received on their phone I think it's caused a little bit of panic around the town, cars getting around and people filling up and buying supplies they've needed," he said.
"There's heaps of people with utes and trailers packing up."
A flood devastated St George in 2010, when the Balonne peaked at 13.4 metres.
Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce, who is based in St George, says residents in low-lying areas are facing their third flood in two years.
"If we have to evacuate the town that is a whole new step and that would be extremely traumatic for many people, even though the old people's homes already evacuated and the hospital's being evacuated," he said.
The weather bureau says the record flood levels expected at St George will also have an impact downstream.
But hydrologists say there will be no predictions for the community of Dirranbandi until the extent of flooding is seen in St George.
Charleville levee holds
Further north, work continues on maintaining a temporary flood levee that has so far managed to protect the south-west town of Charleville.
The levee protecting the town held overnight, but the raging Warrego River is still high against it.
The Warrego has fallen a few centimetres to 7.65 metres, but it is still lapping against the levee walls.
Forecasters say the river will stay very high until at least tomorrow.
Charleville Mayor Mark O'Brien says the crisis is far from over.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves - it's another two days before it starts to fall," he said.
"I'm still very cautious about it. No time for a party yet I can tell you. Until it's gone I'm not calling this thing safe or over."
Councillor O'Brien says volunteers are urgently needed at the airport to fill sandbags as there has been problems with a bridge in the town.
"We've had an ongoing drama down at the Sturt Street Bridge where one of the grills is letting water back into town," he said.
About 600 people slept in the evacuation centre in Charleville overnight.
Charleville resident Marianne Hall stayed at an evacuation centre and said spirits were high there and her children were treating it like a camping trip.
"It has cooled down. I think everyone is in better spirits," she said.
In the state's southern inland, the worst is over at Mitchell and Roma.
The Maranoa in Mitchell has dropped about 30 centimetres from its peak of 10 metres but authorities say the town is a mess.
Locals have told the ABC they are furious at the lack of help they have received from the State Government.
One woman says 300 people slept on concrete in an evacuation centre and there were limited toilets.
In Roma, Bungil Creek has dropped more than a metre.
About 208 people slept at evacuation centres in Roma after about 300 homes in the town were swamped.
Maranoa Mayor Robert Loughnan says residents are trying to clean mud away before it dries.
"It's quite awful. It's got a very strong fishy smell about it this year," he said.
"We've had three consecutive years of major floods in Roma and it doesn't make it any better.
"It doesn't seem fair to the people of Roma and of course the people of Mitchell who've had such an incredible impact."
The search has also been continuing for a woman who was swept off a flooded bridge on Friday.
Qld floods leave one dead, town evacuated
The gravity of southwest Queensland's floods is sinking in, with residents of a whole town being forced to evacuate and the discovery of a body swept away two days ago.
The town of St George is expected to be completely cut off by about 9pm (AEST) on Sunday ahead of an expected 15-metre flood peak - 1.5 metres higher than previous records - on Tuesday.
A mandatory evacuation order was declared after Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and Mayor Donna Stewart met with local disaster management groups on Sunday.
The order has since been made public via email, media outlets, online and through social media.
Police and SES crews have doorknocked every home in St George to let people know the situation.
Under state legislation, police and other emergency workers are given extra powers in a disaster, including the use of reasonable force to make people leave.
Ms Stewart told ABC Radio people were risking their lives if they did not go.
"If they do stay, we will not be able to guarantee their safety," she said.
St George resident Angela Doran told AAP there was a sense of panic in the town once police started doorknocking and telling people to leave before the Moonie Highway - the only road out of town - was cut.
"Some people are in disbelief," Ms Doran said.
A RAAF Hercules aircraft arrived on Sunday to fly hospital patients to Brisbane and the Gold Coast and air evacuations will continue once roads are cut.
Further north in Roma, the body of local woman Jane Sheahan was found near a bridge on Sunday afternoon.
She was swept away on Friday while trying to cross a flooded road with her seven-year-old son, who was rescued.
Roma mayor Mark O'Brien told ABC Radio the incident was a "real low point" for the town.
"It's obviously a really sad note, because in all the years of flooding, we haven't lost anyone yet in these events," he said.
Charleville, northwest of St George, is also in the wall of water's firing line, but a levee built to protect the town is now expected to hold after fears on Saturday it might fail.
Meanwhile, the clean-up has started in Roma and Mitchell, which copped the brunt of the flooding on Friday and Saturday.
Maranoa mayor Robert Loughnan, who presides over both towns, said residents are starting to return to their homes and start the arduous task of cleaning up before the mud starts to try.
"Water levels in Roma receded further throughout the night and residents today begin the task of checking the damage to their property and cleaning out their homes," Mr Loughnan said on Sunday.
"We have a huge job ahead of us, but have received overwhelming support from the community this morning to kick-start the initial clean up efforts in Roma."
Rising Australian floodwaters force mass evacuation
SYDNEY - Thousands of Australians were forced to abandon their homes on Sunday as a record deluge swept through areas still reeling from last year's devastating floods, claiming its first life.
Police ordered the 3,800 residents of the town of St George, in northern Queensland state, to evacuate as rising floodwaters raced towards record heights, threatening to cut the one remaining exit road.
In the town of Roma, further north, a woman whose car was swept from a flooded roadway became the disaster's first official victim, with searchers finding her body two days after she went missing.
"Residents of St George are required to evacuate by road before the Moonie Highway is cut by floodwaters, which is expected to occur sometime in the early part of Sunday evening," police said in a mandatory evacuation order.
"Air evacuation to Brisbane is being organised to ensure evacuations can proceed after the Moonie Highway closes."
Police doorknocked every home in town to deliver the order and are permitted to use reasonable force if people refuse to leave, with mayor Donna Stewart warning resident safety could no longer be guaranteed.
"It's pretty panicky here," said St George resident Angela Doran.
"I think everyone just wants to get out now."
The swollen Balonne River, flooding for the third time in less than two years, was expected to peak at 15 metres (50 feet) on Tuesday night, far exceeding the previous record of 13.4 metres set in March 2010.
"This is a very serious situation and I urge people to cooperate," said Queensland Premier Anna Bligh.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard dispatched a military transport plane to airlift patients from the town's hospital to the coast, and the local nursing home was also being emptied.
Eight defence helicopters are already helping search and rescue efforts in the flood zone, winching people to safety and dropping food, bedding, medical supplies and other essentials such as generators.
St George has seen major flooding twice in the past two years, once in March 2010 and again last year during Queensland's flooding disaster, which claimed 35 lives and swamped vast tracts of farmland and tens of thousands of homes.
Deputy Queensland police commissioner Ian Stewart said the situation in the region had "deteriorated" overnight with "very large spikes" in water levels south of Roma, where 200 homes flooded earlier this week.
The woman who died in Roma had managed to save her seven-year-old son from the floodwaters but was swept away before she could be rescued, according to the Courier Mail newspaper. She had been helping neighbours to sandbag.
The Bureau of Meteorology said St George was expected to reach the 2010 flood level by Monday morning and "continue rising, possibly above 14 metres on Tuesday and Wednesday."
Residents scrambled to fortify levees still standing from last year's floods, with some locals saying they were prepared for a peak of 14.5 metres or worse.
"If it does reach the peak that they're talking about, if it goes across into the irrigation area, it's going to knock out thousands of hectares of cotton," local farmer Alex Benn told Sky News.
Flood defences held overnight in nearby Charleville, where some 600 people were holed up in an evacuation centre waiting for the Warrego River to subside.
Worst yet to hit swamped Queensland's west
A SWATHE of Queensland towns have been hit by record volumes of water tearing across the state's southwest - but the worst could be yet to come.
As Mitchell and Roma residents yesterday tried to return to their flood-ravaged homes and Charleville lay hunkered down behind its untested levee, St George was evacuated.
At 3.15pm yesterday, Premier Anna Bligh ordered St George residents to get out while they could as the town stared down the barrel of a record flood.
The dramatic move came as police confirmed the body of a woman, believed to be that of missing mother Jane Sheahan, had been found in floodwaters on Arthur St, Roma, about 2.20pm yesterday.
The Maranoa River, which tore through Mitchell and Roma last week, displacing hundreds of people and destroying low-lying homes, was expected to join with the already flooded Balonne River last night, creating a devastating flood. According to a warning issued by the Bureau of Meteorology, St George is expected to reach the March 2010 flood level (13.4m) this morning and continue rising, to possibly above 14m tomorrow and Wednesday.
At 3.15pm, Ms Bligh said with the possibility that the river could reach 15m, there was no option but to order the compulsory evacuation.
Ms Bligh said buses were moving people out of the town along the Moonie Hwy to Dalby, where evacuation centres had been set up at the showgrounds and PCYC.
When the highway closed, special flights would be organised, Ms Bligh said, but residents would have to leave their pets and take no more than 10kg of carry-on luggage.
Police were also being brought in to keep watch over the deserted town.
Queensland Senator Barnaby Joyce, whose home is on the river in St George, told ABC Radio people were worried.
"There has been a little bit of panic in certain areas," Senator Joyce said. "Imagine how you'd feel if you had been flooded three times in three years."
Mayor Donna Stewart spent the day urging people to escape east along the highway while they could.
She said the council had feared the water could go above the official predictions, with locals saying they had never seen water like it.
Those words were echoed by the residents of Mitchell, Roma and Charleville.
In Charleville yesterday, SES and council workers started emergency pumping near the temporary levy gates across the Mitchell highway after a drain started leaking water back in to the town early yesterday.
More than 600 people moved to the town's evacuation centre but some are slowly returning home.
In Roma, residents were starting to return to their flooded homes and a mud army was being organised to help speed the clean-up.
Nearby township Mitchell faces a long, hard rebuild.
Maranoa Mayor Rob Loughnan said some Mitchell residents were returning to their homes but there would be plenty of heartbreak.
"About 80 per cent of the town is really badly affected," Cr Loughnan said.
Another concern weighing on western Queensland minds were predictions of possible storms within days.
The one ray of sunshine is that the town of Surat, on predictions yesterday, would escape the flood.