Australia’s military has been deployed to tackle devastating “once-in-a-century” floods that have inundated homes, schools and airports in the country’s northeast, forcing hundreds to flee and bringing crocodiles onto the streets.
The Australian Defence Forces filled sandbags, deployed amphibious cargo vehicles and helped pluck flashlight-wielding residents from their rooftops Monday, as monsoon rains drenched the northern state of Queensland.
Australia’s tropical north typically experiences heavy rains during the monsoon season, but the recent downpour has far exceeded normal levels.
The authorities were forced to open floodgates late Sunday, unleashing what they called “dangerous and high velocity flows.” Images from the city of Townsville showed cars mostly submerged and picket fences barely poking through waist-deep flood waters.
Desperate residents had to contend not only with flash flooding, landslides, and power blackouts but also reptilian predators that have been spotted in residential roads and cul-de-sacs.
The Townsville Bulletin said that it had received reports of several saltwater crocodile sightings in the flood-ravaged area.
Emergency services struggled to respond, carrying out 18 “swift water rescues” overnight.
More than 1,100 people have called the emergency services for urgent help, according to state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
“Small boats worked through the night to evacuate members of the community,” said local commander Brigadier Scott Winter.
Palaszczuk warned the communities to face more difficulties ahead. Schools and courts remain closed, more rain is on the way and emergency warnings still in effect for more than a dozen rivers.
Winds are expected to gust at up to 100 kilometres (62 miles) an hour on the coast.
Up to 20,000 homes are at risk of being inundated if the rains continue, officials said. Some areas are expected to get a year’s worth of rain in just over a week.
The region receives an average of about 2,000 millimetres (6.5 feet) of rain annually, but some towns are already on track to pass that.