Skip to main content

Australian PM visits flood-devastated Queensland

By the CNN Wire Staff
A resident evacuates his flooded home by boat in the country town of Chinchilla in Queensland.
A resident evacuates his flooded home by boat in the country town of Chinchilla in Queensland.
  • Queensland has been flooded for a week and more is on the way
  • The cities of Emerald and Rockhampton are already under water
  • The Rockhampton airport will shut Saturday

(CNN) -- The flooding in the Australian state of Queensland will cost "hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars," Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Friday as she toured the devastation.

Towns across the northeastern state have been flooded since monsoon rains a week ago caused rivers to spill their banks and reach record levels.

The flooding has moved farther south, and the mining town of Emerald and coastal city of Rockhampton could face their worst flooding in decades this weekend.

"This is a natural disaster across Queensland that is going to occasion, between levels of government, literally hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in expenditure," Gillard said.

Gillard went with Queensland Premier Anna Bligh through the sugar-producing town of Bundaberg, where flood waters -- which peaked Thursday at 7.92 meters (26 feet) -- were expected to start subsiding Friday.

"We now have three major river systems in flood, we have 17 evacuation centers active, we have more than 1,000 people in those evacuation centers and many more thousands staying with relatives and friends because they can't get back into their own homes," Bligh said.

Defense forces set up temporary accomodation outside Emerald to cope with what Bligh said would be a "very large group of people who will become homeless."

Many areas of Rockhampton are already flooded, but Bureau of Meteorology hydrologist Jeff Perkins said the city's worst flooding in 50 years is still likely next week.

The Rockhampton airport said it was ceasing normal domestic services Saturday afternoon because of flooding that is expected to cut off the runway from the rest of the city. The Fitzroy River, it said, will reach 9 meters (29.5 feet) by Sunday and 9.4 meters (30.8 feet) by Tuesday.

Some Rockhampton residents lost their composure when speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation about the floods.

"The flood of just two weeks ago -- we get nothing, there's no emergency assistance, so we beg the state government to help us," said one man, before breaking down and walking away.

Another woman said through tears, "I've got all my animals inside the house now."