Australian prime minister pledges help for Queensland

Prime Minister Julia Gillard pledged financial support for Australia’s flood-hit north-east on Saturday during a tour of the most heavily inundated parts of Queensland state amid forecasts of more rain.

Run-off from a Christmas deluge that left an area the size of France and Germany combined under water is still swelling some rivers, while in other flooded areas water levels are subsiding more slowly than predicted.

The floods have swamped coal mines and hit agriculture hard, washed away roads and railways, and brought the country’s $50-billion coal export industry to a near standstill.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday in the flooded town of St George, 450km west of the state capital Brisbane, Gillard said Aus$4-million in emergency payments had already been paid and more was on the way to help “families who are doing it tough”.

As children rode scooters along the edge of floodwaters nearby, Gillard said she had met relief officials and discussed how to tackle the massive reconstruction task that will come when the waters finally recede.

“There are hundreds of millions more dollars that are going to be required to help Queensland through and help with the rebuilding,” she said, pledging to work with state Premier Anna Bligh.

Fourth death
On Saturday a fourth person was confirmed dead in the latest flooding, a 55-year-old truck driver whose truck veered off a road while transporting water to the inundated town of Condamine.

Thousands have been evacuated from their homes, and in many towns people have taken to getting around the streets in boats. Authorities say around 200 000 people have been affected.

Flood warnings were still in place on Saturday for more than 10 rivers in Queensland. Up to 200mm of rain was forecast in some areas over the weekend, but forecasters said the worst would likely spare the areas most heavily affected by the floods.

The man tasked with overseeing the recovery, Major General Mick Slater, has warned it is likely to take years. While travelling with Gillard on Saturday, he said the crisis was “not over yet” and proper assessments could not even begin until the water levels fell.

The scale of the disaster has prompted fears of disease in the largely tropical areas affected. Earlier this week a military helicopter flew a water purification plant to the inland town of Theodore, one of the first affected, to provide drinking water there.

On Saturday the Fitzroy River in the town of Rockhampton, 600km north of Brisbane, was still at 9,15m, several days after it peaked at 9,2m, and is predicted to stay above 8,5m until around Friday.

The massive damage has prompted calls for dams to be built as a way of controlling the water’s flow and for the creation of a flood-safe transport corridor, after the floods cut the major northern transport link along the state’s east coast. – Reuters

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