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"Down Under" Waterlogged

The worst floods in history have struck the fastest growing state in Australia and there are three months left to the rainy season.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 1/2/2011, 5:36 PM / Last Update: 1/2/2011, 7:20 PM

 

The phrase that repeats itself in press coverage of the worst floods in the history of the state of Queensland, Australia is "Biblical proportions" as if those describing the natural disaster were witness to Noah's travails. Although the flood has covered an area the size of Germany and France combined, displaced 200,000 people and cut off 20 towns, the death toll has been merciful with only three fatalities reported up to now. The prediction however is for severe thunderstorms and intensified flash flooding that will only intensify the misery.

Queensland, in northeastern Australia, with its diversified economy including tourism has been the fastest-growing state in Australia. The capital Brisbane, 200 km east of the flood zone, has become Australia's third most expensive city after Sydney and the capital Canberra. Up to now flood damage is estimated at $1 billion and the tourists come to gawk at the submerged houses, to the ire of the locals. The floods have damaged the mining industry, a mainstay of the state's economy.

Emergency assistance has poured in and some towns cut off by the flood are receiving airlifts by helicopter of food and supplies. In addition to rescue operations, extra police have been posted to prevent looting. Even where the waters have receded the troubles are not over. Many residents find that all their belongings have been swept away. Announcements have also gone out that when articles are sighted drying in the sun they are not to be appropriated because they are probably flood-soaked items that are being salvaged by returning owners.

The authorities have not restored electricity to the houses waiting until they have certification from electricians in hand that it is safe to do so. People are instructed to thoroughly rinse their taps to make sure that all the silt is gone out of the water. Then they can go on to endlessly rescrubbing the floors.

As is the case with natural disasters, the comforting element is provided by acts of personal generosity and unsung heroes. For example boat owners became volunteer cabdrivers as they assisted their stricken neighbors by ferrying them from place to place.

Rockhampton, a city of 75,000 has become emblematic of the floods. Its airport was closed; railroad tracks leading to it were washed away, two highways were inundated and the last road out is expected to be underwater by midweek.

To add to the grim news Australia has only gone through a month of the wet season leaving three more months to go and the threat of further flooding is compounded by a tornado watch.