Hundreds rescued from floods in north-eastern Australia

Thousands of households without power in Queensland told it may take days to restore

People attempt to rescue a vehicle bogged in mud from the receding floodwaters in Cairns, Australia, on Monday. EPA
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More than 300 people were rescued overnight from floodwaters in north-eastern Australia, where dozens of residents had resorted to clinging on to roofs, officials said on Monday.

A second evacuation mission will be launched on Tuesday morning, with assistance from the Australian defence force.

Cairns Airport remains closed after more than 2 metres of rain fell in less than a week, with concerns that the city of 160,000 people will lose drinking water.

While rain was easing in Cairns, severe weather warnings were in place in nearby Port Douglas, Daintree, Cooktown, Wujal Wujal and Hope Vale, with more rain forecast.

Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll described the flooding as “absolutely devastating”.

“Last night, we had an extraordinarily challenging, challenging evening, rescuing some 300 people,” Ms Carroll told reporters.

There were no deaths or serious injuries, she said.

Around 13,000 households across Queensland have lost power, with residents told it may take days to be restored.

All 300 residents of the Aboriginal community of Wujal Wujal will be evacuated by helicopter, after nine adults and a 7-year-old child spent hours overnight on a hospital roof, officials said.

The floods caused by heavy rain in the wake of former Tropical Cyclone Jasper cut off several towns popular with tourists in Australia's north-east along the Great Barrier Reef on Monday.

Jasper dumped months' worth of rain in the far north of Queensland over the weekend, forcing some people to flee their homes and crowd on rooftops to escape quickly rising rivers.

“The problem is the rain won't stop and until it eases up, we can't get aerial support into remote places,” the state's premier, Steven Miles, told ABC Television.

“We see a lot of natural disasters and this is just about the worst I can remember.”

Jasper was downgraded to a tropical low after leaving a trail of destruction across the state last week.

Cairns, the gateway town to the Great Barrier Reef and home to more than 150,000 people, received about 600mm (24 inches) of rain over 40 hours through early Monday. That is more than triple the December mean of 182mm (7.17 inches).

All flights from Cairns Airport were cancelled or postponed, with social media images showing planes partially submerged on the tarmac.

Dan, who lives just north of the airport, told ABC Radio he had to shelter on top of his kitchen bench for about four hours before being taken to a house where 30 people had gathered on the roof awaiting rescue boats.

“Kids, elderly people, dogs and cats on this poor bloke's roof who just had brand new solar panels installed … it was a very harrowing journey navigating the very fast-flowing water and dodging debris,” he said.

Australian authorities on Sunday urged thousands of people in northern Queensland to move to higher ground because of the danger of flooding from torrential rains.

Queensland authorities said major flooding was under way in some suburbs of Cairns, a tourist hub of around 170,000 people located around 1,700km north of state capital Brisbane.

“Properties in these areas may continue to experience flooding with the approaching high tide and continued rainfall. Residents should move to higher ground now,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services said on its website in one of several emergency alerts for parts of northern Queensland.

Updated: December 18, 2023, 2:45 PM