Residents evacuated from flooded Queensland towns have been warned they may not be able to return to their homes for weeks.
The last of Theodore's residents were evacuated this morning, with all eyes now on Bundaberg, where residents are today bracing for the city’s highest flood in 50 years.
There were 700 Queenslanders sleeping in evacuation centres across the sodden state last night and many more staying with family and friends.
Today, the Premier cut short her holidays to visit Bundaberg and Rockhampton, where she declared a further five areas to be in disaster situations, bringing the total to eight across Queensland. They are Dalby, Chinchilla, Theodore, Bundaberg, Burnett, Rockhampton, Woorabinda and Emerald.
The Insurance Council of Australia has also declared a catastrophe in the state, but said it was too early to yet estimate the costs associated with flood damage.
Emergency Management Queensland acting chief officer Bruce Grady said Theodore residents staying in an evacuation centre at a nearby mining camp in Moura may not be able to return home for more than a week.
‘‘The evacuation of an entire town is unprecedented in Queensland,’’ he said.
‘‘These floodwaters are likely to remain high for a long period of time.
‘‘In some cases that might be measured in weeks, rather than days.
‘‘Patience is the key here. Those waters will go down when nature [chooses], not when we want them to.
‘‘If residents have moved out of their property, it may be some time before they can move back in.’’
Holiday travellers were warned they could remain stranded for several more days as the majority of major highways across the state remain cut, while some, including the bridge into Warwick, south-west of Brisbane, have been ripped up by water.
Mr Grady said there was no need yet for the SES to call on their interstate counterparts for help, as the floods had been slow moving, affording emergency services time to concentrate their efforts in particular areas.
The SES responded to 2366 calls for assistance across the state in the 24 hours to 5am today.
The highest concentration of requests for help were in the Bundaberg and Burnett area, where 424 calls were made.
There also were 183 calls made in Hervey Bay, 134 in Rockhampton and 102 in Emerald.
Bundaberg on flood watch
Evacuations of Bundaberg have already begun, after 18 homes were inundated by the rising Burnett River.
The river is expected to swell to close to 8 metres today, well above the 1954 record of 7.2 metres.
Bundaberg Deputy Mayor Tony Ricciardi said residents in the predicted flood zone had been told to prepare to leave their properties.
State Emergency Service volunteers and city council workers were today door-knocking houses to warn residents.
"All our efforts are around Bundaberg city and that’s where most of the damage could be from the peak flood," Cr Ricciardi told ABC Radio.
He said houses in northern Bundaberg may not be inundated, but would be cut off by floodwaters for between two and three days.
‘‘They will lose water, they will lose sewage, they will lose power ... so we are asking residents to self-evacuate,’’ he said.
Mr Grady said 300 people were forced to move from a caravan park in the town this morning.
‘‘We are planning for 100 homes to have water around them and 50 homes to have water up to the floorboards,’’ he said.
Rail services have been suspended after water rose over the Burnett River bridge.
Emerald, Rockhampton next
Evacuations are also underway in the town of Emerald, nearly 600 kilometres north-west of Bundaberg, with authorities warning the Nogoa River is expected to rise 300 millimetres higher than it rose in the devastating flood of 2008.
The river is expected to peak on Friday, with 200 hundred homes due to be inundated.
Mayor Peter Maguire said residents were already being evacuated from low-lying areas.
Mr Grady said floods were expected to cut road and rail routes to town by the end of the week.
‘‘We are putting in place helicopters that will be able to continue to resupply Emerald. People will be moving to either family and friends or to evacuation centres,’’ Mr Grady said.
‘‘Evacuation centres are being prepared with the help of the Red Cross.’’
Rockhampton is also expected to flood on Sunday.
Meanwhile residents in the flood-ravaged town of Dalby on the northern Darling Downs have just two days’ supply of drinking water left after the region’s water treatment plant was inundated.
The swollen Myall Creek inundated more than 100 homes in the town earlier this week, forcing about 60 residents into evacuation centres.
About 58 people have voluntarily fled rising waters at Chinchilla, while about 18 people have evacuated from Warra, between Chinchilla and Dalby.
Appeal for funds
Premier Anna Bligh today launched an appeal to help those affected by flooding.
"It is impossible not to feel for those Queensland families who have lost everything in these floods, particularly so close to Christmas," Ms Bligh said.
"The resilience of these Queensland communities is certainly on display but the worst is far from over and they need our help.
“This is an unprecedented situation in Queensland and we ask Australians to give what they can."
Donations can be made at www.qld.gov.au/floods, on freecall 1800 219 028 or in person at any Queensland branch of the Bank of Queensland (BoQ), Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, ANZ, NAB or Suncorp.
Meanwhile, Personal Hardship Assistance grants of $170 for individuals, and up to $850 for families, are being offered to help out with the cost of replacing food, clothing and medical supplies.
Personal Hardship Assistance grants are available to people experiencing hardship in Banana Shire Council and the Southern Downs, Western Downs, Central Highlands, Mackay, Bundaberg, Barcaldine, Lockyer Valley, and North Burnett regional council areas.
People who are experiencing hardship due to the flooding should contact the Department of Communities on 1800 173 349 or visit www.communities.qld.gov.au.
Record rainfall that caused the devastating conditions has eased as it moves north towards Mackay and Bowen, Bureau of Meteorology Bryan Rolston said.
Isolated showers were still expected to drizzle over sodden areas in central and southern Queensland for a couple of days but Mr Rolston said it would have minimal effect of rising floods.
"The flood [risk] will remain into tomorrow because the rivers lag the rainfall but I wouldn’t think [the showers would affect river levels] because the rain is light," Mr Rolston said.
"There’ll be light showers tomorrow [but] it shouldn’t contribute too much. So the flood situation should start to ease tomorrow.
"As time goes on, eastern parts of Queensland [will] fine up, virtually."
However, Mr Rolston said heavy rain was due to return after the weekend.
"Over the weekend we’ll see a little more in shower activity, but not heavy rainfall or widespread rain," he said.
"We might get back into a rain situation by Monday and Tuesday next week. It looks like showers will continue into early next week. They probably won’t be as big [as recent days]. But the ... trouble is it’s so saturated any heavy rainfalls will contribute to flooding."
The bureau has issued flood warnings Baffle Creek, Kolan River, Lockyer and Warrill Creeks, Barcoo River, Cooper Creek, Burnett River, Condamine River, Balonne River, Fitzroy River and the Warrego River, and for all coastal streams from Bundaberg to the New South Wales border.
Men rescued from roof of their vehicle
Two men were rescued from the roof of their vehicle after the road they were driving on suddenly gave way to a wall of water west of Brisbane.
Police said the men, aged 20 and 35, attempted to drive a utility through shallow water on Percy Jurgs Road, Cecil Plains, when the road suddenly dropped away about 10pm.
They were rescued by a State Emergency Service boat and were not injured.
Emergency services yesterday expressed their frustration at the number of people who continued to enter floods and attempt to drive on water-affected roads.
- with AAP and Courtney Trenwith
- Brisbane Times