Rising Rivers Prompt Evacuations of Australian Towns

December 30, 2010

The military flew out a town’s entire population of 300 people by helicopter Wednesday in eastern Australia where waters continued to rise after days of drenching rain.

A total of 1,000 people were evacuated from the town of Theodore and other parts of central and southern Queensland State, with swollen rivers there expected to rise higher in coming days. Only a few police officers remained in Theodore, county mayor Mareen Clancy said.

“Certainly the water is still rising,” Clancy said. “The heights are at such a new record it’s not known what this is going to do.”

At least two other Queensland towns – Emerald and Bundaberg – also were preparing to evacuate.

The state premier, Anna Bligh, launched a disaster relief fund for flood victims with 1 million Australian dollars (US$1.017 million) in state money. Prime Minister Julia Gillard pledged to match that amount with federal funds.

“We won’t know until floodwaters recede the total amount of damage done,” Gillard said. “But what this does mean is the Queensland and federal governments will work together in those areas in partnership with the rebuilding of critical infrastructure.”

While days of drenching rain have eased, river levels continue to rise in many locations in the southern and central areas of the state as high waters make their way toward the sea. Communities downstream face days of uncertainty, the Meteorology Bureau has warned.

Flooding has shut down about 300 roads across Queensland, including two major highways to the state capital Brisbane.

The head of the state’s emergency agency, Bruce Grady, said the crisis would not pass quickly.

“These floodwaters are likely to remain high for a long period of time, in some cases that might be measured by weeks, rather than days,” he told reporters. “These waters will go down when nature tells us they will go down.”

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