Australians Flee Homes as Floods Threaten to Engulf Parts of the Northeast

Thousands of Australians fled their homes as floodwaters engulfed parts of the country’s northeast, damaging properties and ravaging crops a year after natural disasters cost the economy about A$9 billion ($9.6 billion).

St George, a town of about 3,000 people located 500 kilometers (311 miles) west of the Queensland state capital, Brisbane, was being evacuated, a spokeswoman for the Queensland Police Service said by phone. The deluge may damage as much as 10 percent of the cotton crop in Australia, the world’s third- biggest shipper, according to Olam International Ltd.

“The next week will be quite important to see how high the water gets,” Richard Haire, Olam’s managing director and regional head for Australia and New Zealand, said today in a phone interview from Brisbane. “There is potential for damage to up to 10 percent of the crop.”

Floods in Queensland and the neighboring state of New South Wales have caused an estimated A$50 million of damage, New South Wales Minister for Emergency Management Robert McClelland said in a Feb. 3 statement. About 30,000 properties were affected in Queensland last year by flooding that left dozens of people dead and disrupted trade as coal mines were shut.

This year the mines “are not experiencing any difficulties,” Queensland Resources Council Chief Executive Michael Roche said. “So far, the Queensland coal industry, as far as we are aware, has missed the flooding.”

Queensland’s Bowen Basin, located in the state’s northeast, is the biggest shipper of coking coal, used to make steel. Prices of the fuel hit a record last year after rain and flooding disrupted production and railroads.

Cotton Crops

The extent of the damage to crops this year is difficult to determine as floodwaters are receding in some areas while worsening in others, Cotton Australia Chief Executive Officer Adam Kay said today in a telephone interview.

While the 2010-11 harvest reached a record of more than four million bales, about 10 percent was lost as some regions were hit with the worst flooding in a century, according to the industry body’s annual report.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered in St George after forecasts showed upstream waterways rising quickly, with the Balonne River possibly peaking at 15 meters (49 feet), according to a government statement yesterday. That compares to a previous peak of 13.4 meters in 2010.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting scattered showers and some thunderstorms over parts of Queensland, while conditions will be mostly fine elsewhere, according to information on the bureau’s website.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elisabeth Behrmann in Sydney at ebehrmann1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rebecca Keenan at rkeenan5@bloomberg.net

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