Flood waters peaking in Australian city

Water levels in the Fitzroy River in the flood-ravaged Australian city of Rockhampton are peaking, but rising levels are still a major concern for residents in many other Queensland communities.

Flooding affects 40 communities, recovery costs could top $5B

Water levels in the Fitzroy River in the flood-ravaged Australian city of Rockhampton are peaking, but rising levels are still a major concern for residents in many other Queensland communities.

Queensland Deputy Premier Paul Lucas told CBC News that officials believe water levels in Rockhampton peaked Wednesday, though he noted they would likely remain high for another seven days.

The flood crisis in northeastern Australia has affected about 200,000 people in about 40 communities, state officials say. Lucas said the entire flood-affected area is about 10 per cent larger than British Columbia.

"It's a massive area," Lucas said. "Here, because it's so flat, the water takes a long time to come up and then takes a long, long time to go down."

The waters in Rockhampton peaked at a lower level than expected, sparing hundreds of homes and businesses that would have been at risk if levels continued to rise.

The weather bureau told local residents the Fitzroy River was expected to peak at around 9.4 metres Tuesday or Wednesday. But weather bureau hydrologist Paul Birch told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the river has stayed around the 9.2-metre mark since Tuesday afternoon.

"It will stay at that level all day today and may well still be there tomorrow," he told the broadcaster. "We should start to see some slight drops in height tomorrow."

A man rides a boat on a flooded street in Depot Hill in Rockhampton, Queensland, on Wednesday. ((Daniel Munoz/Reuters))

Chief Supt. Alastair Dawson said it would be some time before flood waters disperse.

"This is a prolonged flooding event that is taking an unprecedented time to pass, even after the peak river height has been reached," he said in a statement.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said Wednesday that Maj.-Gen. Mick Slater will lead a recovery task force meant to help the state recover from the flooding.

She said the flood bill will easily surpass initial estimates and could reach more than $5 billion, noting road repairs alone are expected to cost about $2 billion.

St George prepares for rising water

Lucas said that some areas are already in the recovery stage, while others are waiting for flood waters to reach their communities. Queensland is so large that it can take weeks for some rivers to flow from one part of the state to the other.

"So we are confronting floods that are yet to happen in other parts — that we know are going to happen when the water gets there," Lucas said.

Flood waters are seen at the junction of the Bruce Highway and Capricorn Highway, the main roads south of Rockhampton, Australia, on Tuesday. ((Janie Barrett/Associated Press))

The Australian Red Cross said St George, a community south of Rockhampton, is preparing for "significant flooding" mid-week.

Nursing home residents were moved out of St George and residents toiled in the rain to build levee banks ahead of flood waters expected to peak next week. The town was devastated in March by another flood, and residents were worried the latest onslaught of water would cause even more damage.

"More storms are forecast in the next couple of days, with torrential rain, particularly in the south of Queensland," Sydney-based reporter Roger Maynard told CBC News.

In other parts of the state, some flooded communities were beginning to dry out. In the town of Theodore, which evacuated all 300 residents last week, specialists arrived in helicopters on Wednesday to check the safety of power, water and sewage plants, county Mayor John Hooper said.

Officials were still trying to determine when it would be safe to allow residents to return. One problem: an influx of venomous snakes, flushed from their habitats and searching for dry ground amid the waters.

With files from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and The Associated Press