Australia

Queensland floods: Police launch probe into deaths as hundreds wait for waters to recede

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A one-in-100-year monsoonal deluge has rolled into its 12th day.

Hundreds of people remain holed up in evacuation centres across Townsville waiting for floodwaters to recede as North Queensland's big wet rolls into its 12th day.

The one-in-100-year monsoonal deluge is far from over with the Bureau of Meteorology warning more heavy rain is likely from Palm Island, north of Townsville, south to Mackay on Wednesday.

The ongoing severe weather warning follows the discovery of two men's bodies in a Townsville drain after floodwater receded.

A local resident said the men may have been sucked into man-sized pipes that lead to the drain from a liquor store where a looting incident had been reported.

An investigation has been launched into the conduct of police officers in the lead-up to the deaths of the two men.

The Ethical Standards Command will now investigate the police who had been searching for the men after an attempted break-in at a nearby Dan Murphy's liquor store at 3am on Monday.

The police probe will be overseen by the state's Crime and Misconduct Commission and a report will be prepared for the State Coroner.

Authorities unsure how many homes have gone under

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katarina Carroll said it is impossible to know how many homes have gone under across north Queensland.

"It's easily hundreds, it could be thousands," she said on Tuesday, but added audit teams were being hampered by the enduring risk of flash floods with each new deluge.

The 12-day-old weather event has exhausted emergency service workers, who have carried out thousands of rescues since the flood crisis began.

Some residents have started to clean up.
Some residents have started to clean up.
Getty

More than 100 fresh police officers and nurses will begin flying into Townsville to relieve their local colleagues on Wednesday.

Their arrival comes as schools in the region begin reopening as the monsoon trough slowly pushes south.

Recovery planning underway

The Bruce Highway reopened on Tuesday, allowing a backlog of trucks to head for the city carrying much needed supplies of fruit, vegetables and other supplies.

Planning for the city's recovery is well under way, despite concerns about more flash flooding. 

While the flood risk will continue for the rest of the week, forecasters say an end to the disaster is in sight.

“It is an exceptional weather event in terms of the meteorology and hydrology,” Dr Richard Wardle from Queensland's Bureau of Meteorology told reporters at a press conference in Townsville.

“We expect this active monsoon to remain active for the coming days, potentially easing over the weekend, so there is an end in sight. But we are expecting further periods of heavy rainfall, some of it very heavy, about the north-east tropics for the next few days, between about Cardwell and Mackay, and with that there is the real elevated risk of flash flooding.”

Houses inundated with flood waters in Townsville, North Queensland,
Houses are inundated with flood waters in Townsville, North Queensland, Monday, February 4, 2019. .
AAP Image

Residents have been told not to try to return to their sodden homes until authorities tell them it's safe to do so.

The ongoing risks were clear overnight when Bluewater Creek in the city's north copped 340mm of rain, with almost 100 instances of emergency crews having to get people to safety.

A staggering 1.8 metres of rain has fallen on Upper Blue Water over the past seven days, but the Bureau of Meteorology was not able to immediately confirm if that might be an all-time record for Australia.

There’s a current severe weather warning in place for heavy rainfall around Herbert and lower Burdekin, and the Central Coast where flash flooding is likely. These warnings are likely to remain in place for several days.

The monsoon trough that delivered disaster to Townsville has also generated floods out west, with farmers around Cloncurry, McKinlay and Flinders shire reporting livestock losses.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katarina Carroll said it was impossible to know how many homes had gone under across the city. "It's easily hundreds, it could be thousands," she said, but added audit teams were being hampered by the enduring risk of flash floods hitting with each new deluge.

Premier Annastacia Palaszcuk is reminding residents to remain vigilant,

“We do need people to still listen to the authorities because this weather system is still going to hang around the north and north-west of our State.

A recovery centre opened today and residents in need are being urged to call 1800-173-349.

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Over 8000 applications for hardship grants have been made, with only 2,700 processed so far.

11,000 people remain without power in Townsville.

Meantime Prime Minister Scott Morrison has vowed to release Category 3 assistance for residents in need following a request from Queensland’s Premier.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Townsville
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is seen visiting flood affected areas in Townsville, Tuesday, February 5, 2019. Hundreds of people are still waiting for help.
(AAP Image/Dave Acree)

“Every request being made of us, our answer is “yes” and quickly.”

He told reporters he had instructed the Defence Forces to support airlifts in order to help re-stock shelves in empty stores.

“Here alone in Townsville, about 5,500 serving men and women are serving their own local community right now. They are out there, many of whom - hundreds of them, their own homes affected and they have been out there helping others.”

“There will be big shocks for the community, as we've seen this morning as they return to their homes, as they assess the damage to their homes. Yes, there is the physical loss, but there is also the mental shock.”

When asked about recent weather events in Australia, cyclones and flooding, Scott Morrison would not be drawn on the matter, “I’m not engaging in broader policy debates today. I’m engaging in the needs of people here on the ground, people in evacuation centres.”

A crocodile spotted in a Townsville street.
A crocodile spotted in a Townsville street.
Facebook: Erin Hahn

Queensland environment minister, Leeanne Enoch, has issued a statement warning locals to beware of crocodiles in flood waters.

“Crocodiles may be seen crossing roads, and when flooding recedes, crocodiles can turn up in unusual places such as farm dams or waterholes where they have not been seen before.

“Similarly, snakes are very good swimmers and they too may turn up unexpectedly.”

Premier Palaszcuk warned people to stay out of the water

“It is very important for people to remain out of those floodwaters. Do not go swimming in those floodwaters, and when the clean-up begins, you need to make sure that you are wearing closed-in boots.”

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