Townsville residents were inundated by rapidly rising water overnight on Feb. 3 night when the floodgates at the local dam automatically tripped open as it reached 247 percent capacity.
Already declared a disaster zone as of Jan. 3 in what has been described as a “one-in-100-year” flood, monsoon rains hovering over the Australian state of Queensland have dropped another 400 millimeters (1.3 feet) over some areas in the region.
The State Emergency Service (SES) received about 850 calls for help overnight on Feb. 3 as floodwaters quickly enveloped suburbs such as Idalia, Rosslea, Railway Estate. Around 20 suburbs such as Fairfield Waters and 20,000 homes are feared to be at risk.
Floodwaters in Idalia, one of the worst affected areas, were about waist deep, local media reported.
According to emergency services, about 1,100 people were assisted to safety after calling for help. Evacuation centres around the city of Townsville said they were filling up on Feb. 4. It is estimated more than 2,000 properties have been inundated.
“Last night was rough, but everyone pooled together,” said Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill at a news conference on Feb. 4.
— Domanii Cameron (@domaniicameron) February 4, 2019
The weather bureau warned of “dangerous and high velocity flows” along the Ross River after the floodgates were opened fully at the Ross River dam around 8 p.m. on Feb. 3, releasing about 1,900 cubic metres of water a second toward already flooded suburbs downstream.
Hill has since reassured local residents that the dam is safe and at a stable level.
She said that as of 11 a.m. on Monday morning, Feb. 4, more than 12 hours after the floodgates opened, the dam level had dropped to 229 percent capacity. It is still holding about 532,000 gigalitres of water or roughly as much as Sydney Harbour.
The dam had been designed to release water after reaching a certain capacity to ensure its integrity, Hill said, adding that the “dam has done its job.”
Hill said that although the “dam levels have stabilised,” the potential of further rain means that “things can change.”
“We’ve never seen a year’s worth of rain in less than seven days. You know that’s not exactly what we’ve planned for and it really is new parameters we’re moving into.”
Police, SES, and Australian Defence Force members have been given the powers to call wider evacuations if needed, but so far, they have not needed to use them, instead allowing residents to choose whether to stay or go, although those in low-lying areas have been urged to move to higher ground.
Locals have reported several sightings of large crocodiles and other wildlife as the town’s main streets became inundated by floodwaters. Fortunately, more often, the crocodiles that have been found have been freshwater species, which are shy and do their best to stay away from humans.
— Josh Bavas (@JoshBavas) February 4, 2019
— Mélissa Dancey (@MelissaDancey19) February 3, 2019
????CRABBING NQ STYLE????Yep riding the pushies in the street and noticed something in the water. Upon closer investigation it ended up a buck mud crab straight from the gutter from our own home! WTF!! WE ARE ON! Dinner is served! Love this shit!…#suburbancrabs #suburbanslayin #streetcrabs #stoplookingatmyhat #mudcrab #straya #dinnerisserved #spoilt #tackleworldaustralia Tackle World Townsville
由 Miles Tam 发布于 2019年1月31日周四
The heavy rains and opening of the dam smashed record water levels set by the infamous 1998 “Night of Noah” flood when 550 millimetres (1.8 feet) of rain fell in 24 hours—about half of Townsville’s annual rainfall.
Some 1.3 metres (4.3 feet) of rain fell over 7 days in some areas in 1998. This time, Townsville has received 1.16 metres (3.8 ft) of rain over the last 7 days.
Flooding in Townsville & North Queensland:
Low-lying areas of the lower reaches of the Ross River, including the six #Townsville suburbs (Cluden, Rosslea, Hermit Park, Oonoonba, Idalia and Railway Estate) where a flood emergency alert has been in place.#BigWet @TCC_News @QldFES pic.twitter.com/iReXNfvSE8
— BigData Earth (@BigDataEarth) February 1, 2019
“As we know there is still heavy rainfall across this area,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said on Feb. 4. “This monsoonal trough just doesn’t want to seem to move much at all.
“There’s going to be heavy rainfall over the next couple of days. There will also be damaging wind gusts and intense rainfall with significant flash flooding. So once again our message is if you don’t need to be out on the roads, please don’t.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Feb. 4 that North Queensland residents impacted by the floods will have relief made available through the Department of Human Services as of Feb. 5. The federal government is making one-off disaster recovery payments of $1,000 for adults and $400 for children available “as quickly as possible.”
“What we’re seeing in and around Townsville is absolutely devastating for the families and community but more help is on its way,” Morrison said. “I know the disaster is not over yet, but I have no doubt Townsville will emerge stronger than ever.”
Mr Morrison said he hopes to visit the region as soon as practicable.
“Townsville, like communities all across the country, bands together in times of crisis and these floods are no different,” he said. “The defence force personnel sandbagging and door knocking the area, the SES volunteers and local groups are all an incredible example of the community’s resilience and I thank them for their extraordinary work so far.”
Meanwhile to the southwest, Australia’s inland rivers in the Murray Darling Basin continue to choke from a lack of water, with a third fish kill reported on Jan. 28. Local and state officials have blamed the fish kills on the ongoing drought but critics said the ecological and community disaster has at least partly stemmed from water mismanagement.
Former NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham, who is now running as an independent, proposed a 13-point plan on Feb. 4 to save the Darling River, and the communities and aquatic life that rely on the waterway. Among other things, he is suggesting changing the regulations so that irrigators are not able to use 300 percent of their water entitlements in a one year period.
Today I launched my 13-point plan for the Darling/Barka that makes no apologies for restoring the balance to the environment and to the needs of wildlife and communities that rely on the… https://t.co/Uuj9wi9ZZz
— Jeremy Buckingham ???? (@greensjeremy) February 3, 2019
On the other end of the political spectrum, nationalist One Nation Party is suggesting the government revisit the Hybrid Bradfield Scheme in Far North Queensland that could funnel stormwater falling in the north of the country into the Murray River system. The project would involve increasing water storage capacity through building more dams and upgrading existing infrastructure to divert additional water toward the driest parts of Australia.
“By implementing this Hybrid Bradfield Scheme we could drought proof Central Queensland, help fix the water issues in the Murray Darling and offer new hydroelectricity projects for the country,” Australian Sen. Pauline Hanson said in a public statement. “When you account for the amount of revenue that would be generated by the increased agricultural productivity and the additional power generated by the project, it would quickly pay for itself.”
Reuters contributed to this report.