Residents in the Queensland city of Townsville – where up to 500 homes are already under water – were urged to seek higher ground on Sunday as heavy downpours forced the floodgates to the city’s swollen Ross river dam to be completely opened. A heavy deluge of rain on Sunday pushed dam levels to almost 250%…
Residents in theQueenslandcity of Townsville – where up to 500 homes are already under water – were urged to seek higher ground on Sunday as heavy downpours forced the floodgates to the city’s swollen Ross river dam to be completely opened.
A heavy deluge of rain on Sunday pushed dam levels to almost 250% capacity with authorities having to open the floodgates, almost doubling the amount of water flowing out of the catchment.
Close to 2,000 cubic metres of water was surging out of the dam every second after 9pm on Sunday, prompting warnings from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology to residents in low-lying areas.
“You can expect high velocity flows and unprecedented areas of flooding to occur in the Ross River Catchment,” said spokesman Bruce Gunn.
“It could change continuously and unpredictably over the course of this evening into [Monday] morning.”
The Ross River at Aplin Weir was at 3.11 metres and rising late on Sunday night, with authorities expecting it to reach four metres. The extra water could flood more homes along the river with people in several suburbs including Rosslea, Hermit Park and Townsville City told to move to higher ground immediately.
Sky News reported thatemergency services personnel were ordered to leavethe flood zone due to uncertainty about the dam.
The monsoon trough that has been dumping vast amounts of rain on Queensland’s north for a week has rewritten Townsville’s record books.
In just seven days the city had a 1,012mm eclipsing the previous record of 886mm set on the city’s so-called Night of Noah when large areas of the city went under back in 1998.
Parts of north and central Queensland could get another half a metre to a metre of rain over the next few days.
Authorities have pleaded with Townsville residents who are still in their homes to get ready. “We don’t know when this event will end,” said the Townsville mayor, Jenny Hill. “We cannot give you any certainty about what we are going to need to do into the future.”
Townsville airport announced it had cancelled all flights in and out just after 6pm due to safety concerns.
With water levels at waist and chest height in some suburban streets, the local police chief and district disaster coordinator, Steve Munro, said the crisis was only half over.
If things go the city’s way, the flood might not affect any or many more than the 400 to 500 properties already inundated. But he warned: “It could move up to the 10,000, 20,000 [mark]. That’s the worst-case scenario we’re looking at if things keep going pear-shaped. We don’t want to get to that stage.”
The monsoon trough has brought driving rain to other parts of the state, including drought-hit communities to the west.
At Hughenden, properties faced inundation with more major falls forecast as far as Mount Isa near the Northern Territory border.
Back on the east coast, communities from Ingham to Mackay, 500km away, were at risk of flash flooding and damaging winds, including the possibility of tornadoes.
In Townsville, people shared stories of their escape from the fast-rising floodwaters. One Hermit Park resident, Randall Parker, used a blow-up air bed to float his family to safety after water rapidly swallowed his unit.
“It is just unbelievable … It just keeps bucketing down,” he told the Sunday Mail. “I just had to get the family out including a newborn baby as quick as possible.”
The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said because of the severity of the weather, schools that were closed on Friday in Townsville would remain closed on Monday. The government was examining whether to close other schools in the area from Bowen to Proserpine.
The SES said it had responded to over 570 calls for help, including 35 swift water rescues.
The monsoonal deluge has been declared a catastrophe by the Insurance Council of Australia, with losses estimated at $16.7m so far.
Disaster assistance was being extended for communities in Townsville, Charters Towers, Palm Island, Richmond and Burdekin, the Queensland government announced on Saturday night. It would be delivered through the jointly funded Commonwealth-Queensland Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements.