SYDNEY • The north-east Austra-lian city of Townsville could face tornadoes, just as it is being hit by devastating floods, the authorities said.
"Atmospheric conditions are ripe for tornadoes and waterspouts around Townsville," the Bureau of Meteorology in Queensland said yesterday on Twitter. "Damaging to destructive winds are possible in these intense storm cells."
It said Townsville had broken its record for the wettest seven days in a row, with 1,012mm of rain falling by the end of Saturday, compared with the previous record of 886mm in 1998. It warned that more flash floods were expected as rain continued to swell the city's Ross River Dam, which is at more than 200 per cent of its capacity.
Queensland police said spillway gates may be opened fully and warned residents to stay away from riverbanks and move to higher ground.
The national broadcaster ABC said thousands of homes had been abandoned in Townsville suburbs and evacuations were being conducted. It quoted Townsville disaster coordinator Steve Munro as saying that around 400 to 500 of the city's 82,000 homes were currently affected by flooding.
He said: "The modelling says what it is going to say - it could move up to 10,000, 20,000 (homes). We don't want to get to that stage (but) we can't control that."
"I've never seen anything like this," Townsville resident Chris Brookehouse told national broadcaster ABC, adding that his house was flooded with water more than 1m deep. "The volume of water is just incredible. Downstairs is gone, the fridge and freezer are floating. Another five or six steps and upstairs is gone too."
Australia's tropical north experiences heavy rains during the monsoon season at this time of the year, but the recent downpour has surged far above normal levels.
INTENSE STORM CELLS
Atmospheric conditions are ripe for tornadoes and waterspouts around Townsville. Damaging to destructive winds are possible in these intense storm cells.
BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY IN QUEENSLAND, said on Twitter.
Military personnel were delivering tens of thousands of sandbags to affected residents, as Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszc-zuk warned residents to be careful.
"It's basically not just a one-in-20-year event, it's a one-in-100-year event," she told reporters on Saturday.
The Bureau of Meteorology said a slow-moving monsoonal trough was sitting above Queensland, with some areas expected to receive more than a year's worth of rain before conditions ease.
Bureau meteorologist Adam Blazak said the heavy downpours could continue until Thursday, while floodwaters would take some time to recede even when the rains lessen.
There has been a silver lining to the deluge, with drought-stricken farmers in western Queensland welcoming the soaking.
Ms Palaszczuk said yesterday: "It is a welcome relief, especially in our western communities, to not only get the rain, but also to fill up their dams."
The deluge comes amid a severe drought in the eastern inland of the vast Australian continent, including parts of Queensland state, that has left graziers struggling to stay afloat. The country recorded its hottest month ever in January, with mean temperatures exceeding 30 deg C.
DPA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE