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Queensland Towns Watch Rivers Rise as Rain Continues

Queensland Towns Watch Rivers Rise as Rain Continues
Residents of St George, a town in Australia’s flood-ravaged Queensland state, are watching rising river levels as the water that has caused more than A$5 billion ($5 billion) of damage moves south and more rain is forecast. Photographer: Torsten Blackwod/AFP/Getty Images

Residents of St George, a town in Australia’s flood-ravaged Queensland state, are watching rising river levels as the water that has caused more than A$5 billion ($5 billion) of damage moves south and more rain is forecast.

Barnaby Joyce, leader of the opposition Nationals party in Australia’s Senate, has been moving livestock to higher ground at neighbors’ farms and pouring sand into bags to help build levees to protect the town. The Bolonne River is at 13 meters (43 feet) and may continue rising to peak just below 14 meters at the weekend, causing “major” floods, the Bureau of Meteorology said today.

“Now we sit back and hope and pray that the river does not get to 14 meters,” Joyce said by telephone from his house that sits above the flood line. “We are just hoping it doesn’t happen. If it does we have to manage it. I’ll stay here until I’m told I can’t.”

The floods, the state’s worst in 50 years, have forced the evacuation of 4,000 people and affected about a million square kilometers, or an area the size of France and Germany. It may cost more than A$5 billion to repair the damage the deluge has caused, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has said.

St George, a town of 3,500 people about 500 kilometers (310 miles) inland from the state capital, Brisbane, has run out of sandbags, Joyce said. A Hercules cargo plane was scheduled to drop extra sandbags and fuel to the town, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. More rain is forecast over the state’s southeast region today, the Bureau said.

Rescue Workers

The southeastern state of Victoria has sent 23 State Emergency Service volunteers and New Zealand is sending 16 skilled flood response workers, Emergency Management Queensland said yesterday.

Queensland is Australia’s largest coal exporter and accounts for about 20 percent of the nation’s A$1.28 trillion economy. Record rainfall has closed mines and spoiled crops and may have a “significant impact” on the nation’s economy as exports are interrupted, according to Donald McGauchie, a Reserve Bank of Australia board member.

Ten people have died in flood waters in the past few weeks and an estimated 200,000 people in the state have been affected, according to Queensland Police.

Closed Airport

The floods closed the airport at Rockhampton, a coastal town of 75,000 residents about 500 kilometers north of Brisbane. Train links were cut off and roads to the south and west of the city were closed. The airport may remain shut to commercial flights until at least Jan. 11, the airport said on its website.

Still, Bligh said that in some areas, St George aside, the flooding may be past its worst.

“If Mother Nature leaves us alone for a while, we are now seeing the situation stabilize,” she told the ABC. “We’re starting to see the waters either stabilize or recede.”

The Fitzroy River at Rockhampton peaked at 9.2 meters on Jan. 5 and remains steady at 9.15 meters today, the Bureau of Meteorology said. While rain and possible thunderstorms are forecast today and the next three days, water levels will fall “very slowly” over the weekend, the Bureau said. The river will stay above 8.5 meters until late next week, it said.

Some people have chosen to remain in their houses despite the flooding, Rockhampton Regional Council Mayor Brad Carter said in a press briefing broadcast on Sky News.

“The flood levels are going to remain very high for at least seven days, which will make living in that environment, living in flood water in and around and underneath your house, a very uncomfortable environment,” he said.

Record Rainfall

In Western Australia, the Gascoyne River is flooding. It peaked overnight at 6.3 meters and is falling, the weather bureau said on its website.

Australia had its third-wettest year on record during 2010, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, which says showers and storms will continue across Queensland into next week.

The rain has destroyed cotton crops, halted coal deliveries, shut mines and prompted producers including BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto Group to declare force majeure, a legal clause allowing them to miss contracted deliveries.

Australia’s dollar dropped to a two-week low versus the U.S. currency, to 99.33 cents, on speculation the Reserve Bank of Australia will slow the pace of interest-rate increases after the floods tempered the economic outlook.

The cost of hiring larger ships to haul coal fell the most in almost six months as the flooding shut mines and cut cargoes, according to the Baltic Exchange in London. In New York trading, cotton gained for the third straight day on concern that output will be cut in Australia, the fourth-largest exporter. Orange juice also advanced.

The floods have cut production of coal by about 4.5 million metric tons since the start of December, Colin Hamilton, an analyst at Macquarie Group Ltd., said in an e-mail. Coking coal prices may increase by about a third, analysts from Macquarie, Morgan Stanley and Daiwa Capital Markets said.

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