Thousands Evacuated as Flooding Hits Eastern Australia

Floodwaters in eastern Australia retreated and cleanup crews moved in after ex-tropical cyclone Oswald forced thousands of people to flee their homes and caused millions of dollars of damage.

River levels dropped in the Queensland state capital, Brisbane, where more than 3,000 properties were inundated, and the city’s water treatment plant reopened, according to local authorities. In Bundaberg, the military helped the relief effort after more than 7,500 people were evacuated, including patients from the local hospital.

The Insurance Council of Australia declared a catastrophe for parts of Queensland and New South Wales, which together account for about half the nation’s economy. The severe weather left six people dead, disrupted mining operations in Queensland and caused an estimated A$187 million ($196 million) in insurance losses. While the damage is less than floods and storms two years ago, Treasurer Wayne Swan has acknowledged that costs would have an impact on the federal budget.

“From a national perspective it’s not anywhere near as bad” as the damage caused by flooding and Cyclone Yasi in 2011, said Stephen Walters, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s chief economist in Australia. “But it’s still early days, let’s just reserve final judgment until we see what’s happened once the waters recede.”

Thousands of people were evacuated and hundreds more are isolated by floodwaters in rural settlements across the two states after the storm brought devastating winds and heavy rain. Australian troops assisted with rescue efforts in the two states, which experienced about A$9 billion in lost output when they were hit by flooding and Cyclone Yasi in 2011.

Smaller Impact

The combination of Yasi and the floods took off about 1 percentage point of gross domestic product, Walters said. “A back of the envelope” calculation suggests these floods may cost up to 0.3 percent, he said.

Wesfarmers Ltd. cut its coking coal sales forecast from its Curragh mine in Queensland to a range of 7.5 million tons to 8 million tons for the year ending June 30, saying heavy rains and localized flooding this month has hit production and disrupted deliveries.

Xstrata Plc operations are back to normal after a brief suspension because of rain, and BHP Billiton Ltd.’s sites are operating, the companies said yesterday.

The Insurance Council of Australia said 21,000 claims have been made so far with estimated insurance losses of A$187 million, according to the body.

Claims Surge

“We expect to see a surge of claims coming through now that we have assessors on the ground,” Robert Whelan, chief executive of the council, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “People are returning to their damaged properties so we do expect this to accelerate. The magnitude is less than 2011.”

Six people have been killed, including a 27-year-old man who was swept away by floodwaters and a 3-year-old boy struck by a falling tree, according to state police.

Residents in Greater Brisbane and Ipswich are being told to conserve water as the Mount Crosby water treatment plant comes back on line, according to Seqwater, the state body responsible for ensuring safe supplies. The turbidity levels in the Brisbane River continue to be higher than experienced during the January 2011 flood, it said in a statement on its website.

Pockets of sugarcane crops are likely to have suffered major damage from flooding in southern Queensland, industry group Canegrowers said in an e-mailed statement. The nation’s cane production is unlikely to be significantly affected, it said.

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