Australia has deployed troops to tackle “once-in-a-century” floods that have inundated houses, schools and airports in the country’s northeast, forcing hundreds to flee and bringing crocodiles onto the streets.
The Australian Defence Forces on Monday filled sandbags, deployed amphibious cargo vehicles and helped pluck flashlight-wielding residents from their rooftops, as monsoon rains drenched the northern state of Queensland.
Australia’s tropical north typically experiences heavy rains during the monsoon season, but the recent downpour has far exceeded normal levels.
The weather bureau warned of “dangerous and high velocity flows” along the Ross River after the flood gates were opened fully at the Ross River dam late on Sunday, releasing about 1,900 cubic metres of water a second.
Even after the release, as of Monday morning, the dam was still at 229 percent capacity, holding about 532,000 gigalitres of water, or roughly as much as Sydney Harbour.
“We’re hoping to see an easing trend from tomorrow,” bureau spokeswoman Jess Gardner said, adding that the rains could move further south, towards Mackay, a major coal exporting area.
More than 1,100 people have called the emergency services for urgent help, according to Annastacia Palaszczuk, the state premier.
Schools and courts remain closed, more rain is on the way and emergency warnings still in effect for more than a dozen rivers, with winds expected to gust at up to 100km an hour on the coast.
Up to 20,000 homes are at risk of being inundated if the rains continue, according to officials.
“It’s basically not just a one in 20-year event, it’s a one-in-100-year event,” said Palaszczuk. “This is unprecedented, we’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said.