Brisbane crippled by floods after cyclone

Mr Turnbull surveying the damage caused by Cyclone Debbie near the town of Bowen, south of the northern Queensland town of Townsville yesterday, from aboard an Australian Army helicopter.
Mr Turnbull surveying the damage caused by Cyclone Debbie near the town of Bowen, south of the northern Queensland town of Townsville yesterday, from aboard an Australian Army helicopter.PHOTO: REUTERS

School closures for 300,000 students; New South Wales orders evacuation of 40,000

Australia's cyclone-ravaged east coast was yesterday hit by severe flooding, which brought the city of Brisbane to a standstill and prompted school closures for 300,000 students.

Following a powerful Category 4 cyclone that devastated northern Queensland on Tuesday, the downgraded storm produced torrential rain and strong winds as it headed to the much more heavily populated southern part of the state.

About 80,000 people were left without power across south-east Queensland, including 30,000 on the Sunshine Coast, a strip of beaches popular with tourists.

The Queensland government closed more than 2,000 schools across the south of the state and provided free public transport to allow people to travel home safely. Schools have been ordered to remain shut again today.

In and around Brisbane, Australia's third-largest city, businesses and shops shut early and several major roads and highways were closed.

  • 80,000

    Number of people left without power across south-east Queensland, including 30,000 on the Sunshine Coast, a strip of beaches popular with tourists.

    2,000

    Number of schools closed across the south of the state. Schools have been ordered to remain shut again today.

 
 

Farther south, in New South Wales, the authorities ordered the evacuation of 40,000 people from northern towns in the state to avoid dangerous flood waters.

A resident in Lismore, Ms Tink Byers, told ABC Radio: "There is great fear in Lismore at the moment. We do believe this is going to be quite extreme."

The cyclone left two people injured but there were no fatalities.

The Bureau of Meteorology said further downpours would continue until early this morning, prompting warnings of dangerous flooding. By yesterday afternoon, more than 250mm of rain had fallen in parts of Brisbane in less than 24 hours.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk yesterday told residents in the state's south-east: "Stay in your home."

"We are going to see heavy rainfall, we are going to see thunder," she said. "It's going to be really important for people to be indoors."

The flooding came in the wake of Cyclone Debbie, which crossed the Queensland coast at midday on Tuesday. It devastated homes and resorts in and around the Whitsunday islands, a popular region for travellers visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Some towns along the coast have not had power since Monday.

Emergency services yesterday continued to rescue people stranded but were hampered by the flooding. About 40 people in north Queensland were rescued by air from the roofs of their houses.

An Australian navy vessel helped to evacuate all tourists and most staff from Daydream Island.

In a rare show of political unity, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten travelled together to the Queensland town of Bowen to inspect the damage. Both urged people to continue to holiday in the region, which has also suffered heavy damage to crops.

"The storm's gone, the clean-up will happen and then it's back in business," Mr Turnbull said.

There was a bizarre scene in the Queensland town of Ayr, where stunned residents discovered a dead bull shark by the side of a road.

Queensland Fire and Emergency services tweeted a photo of the shark, saying: "Think it's safe to go back in the water? Think again!"

The bull shark - a dangerous species that can survive in fresh water - is believed to have washed up from the nearby Burdekin river.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2017, with the headline 'Brisbane crippled by floods after cyclone'. Print Edition | Subscribe