Cyclone devastation set to continue for days

NICK RALSTON
Last updated 05:00 30/01/2013

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The devastation caused by Cyclone Oswald on Queensland and northern NSW will continue for days with thousands of homes inundated, entire communities isolated and the real possibility that Brisbane could run out of drinking water.

Four people have died in the disaster, all in Queensland, with a three-year-old boy who was hit by a falling gum tree while watching floodwaters in Brisbane the latest victim.

His 34-year-old pregnant mother remained in a critical condition in hospital on Tuesday night with several broken bones and severe head injuries.

Meanwhile, 130 patients at Bundaberg Hospital, in Queensland's north, had to be airlifted to Brisbane by the Australian Defence Force, as the city is suffered its worst ever flood.

Four helicopters and several civilian choppers also performed over 1000 air rescues, lifting stranded residents off roofs in North Bundaberg.

And while the rain has eased, the immediate danger has not subsided.

Residents of Maclean were on Tuesday night ordered to evacuate before floodwaters of the Clarence River peak in the northern NSW town .

"Remaining in flooded areas is dangerous and may place your life at risk," the State Emergency Service warning said.

The latest threat came only hours after the neighbouring town of Grafton narrowly escaped widespread disaster when flood waters peaked just two centimetres below the town's levee wall.

More than 2,000 residents had already been evacuated and another 7,000 were put on notice before the raging Clarence River peaked at 8.08 metres - its highest mark in recorded history.

"This is a sight that has never been seen by white man," said Clarence Valley Mayor Richie Williamson.

"The Clarence has never been recorded above 7.9 metres. It's an awesome spectacle.

"On Thursday and Friday we were nearly in drought conditions. Here we are on Tuesday morning talking about the biggest flood on the history books."

Grafton locals said they were "pretty used" to the flood threat but conceded this time the sheer volume of water had residents on alert.

"It is something of a local attraction," local surveyor Lewis Fletcher said. "It's all everyone talked about, especially at the local pub. The locals there were going down the river bank and coming back giving an hour by hour update to the other guy sitting there having a beer."

It was a combination of "good planning" and a "fair bit of luck" that ensures most of Grafton was spared, Mr Fletcher said.

"Now the rain will start to evaporate and we will get stuck with all the lovely smelling flood mud that Grafton gets," he said. "It will smell like a sewer for the next couple of days."

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Ten local government areas hit by flooding in northern NSW have been declared natural disaster areas, allowing relief funds to flow to assist in recovery.

The joint funding from the state and federal governments will be available in Ballina, Bellingen, Byron, Tweed and Nambucca shires, the Clarence Valley, Coffs Harbour City, Kyogle, Lismore City and Richmond Valley.

SES spokesman Phil Campbell said floodwaters had isolated more than 41,000 people across the state, including 18,000 in the Tweed Valley.

In Queensland, Ipswich and Brisbane escaped widespread destruction when flood waters peaked at lower than forecast levels.

It saved Brisbane up to $100 million on it's cleaning bill but in a cruel twist of fate, the city was last night at risk of running out of drinking water.

Residents were being urged to adopt drought-style water saving measures after a treatment was forced to close because of turbidity caused by the flood. 

- Sydney Morning Herald

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