In the past few months, heavy rain has brought some of the worst flooding Australia has ever seen. Thirty-five people lost their lives and the damage is estimated at hundreds of millions of euros. The town of Rockhampton, in Queensland, was particularly hard hit. Our correspondents went to find out what life was like for those trying to maintain some sort of normality.
Hit by the worst floods in half a century, Rockhampton, Australia’s beef capital, has turned into a ghost town. Roads are cut off and no plane can land on the flooded tarmac anymore. The town is almost entirely isolated from the rest of the world.
The closest airport is in Mackay, four hours north of Rockhampton. The drive at night is long and lonely. Thunder and lightening constantly threaten to break into heavy rain. On the radio, weather warnings interrupt regular programming every few minutes.
No-one is game to drive. The road is completely deserted. The only living creatures we come across are the hundreds of cane toads that came popping under our tyres while crossing the road.
The following morning, Rockhampton wakes up under a dazzling sun. Not a cloud in sight, the storm has avoided the town. Residents breathe a sigh of relief. The Fitzroy – the local river – has only just peaked, and any more rain wouldn’t be welcome.
One third of Rockhampton is under water and some neighbourhoods have turned into islands, cut off from the rest of the town by floodwaters. One of them is Depot Hill, a rough and tough district, built on the river’s plain.
Here, the sight is impressive. Streets have turned into rivers and the only way in is by boat. Some houses have literally drowned in floodwaters; others built on stumps, in a traditional Queenslander style, have only just avoided the worst. Water comes lapping at their door but the inside has largely been spared.
Access to Depot Hill is difficult. Snakes - and some even say crocodiles, chased from their habitat by floodwaters - have sought refuge in people’s backyards and homes.
But this is not enough to deter families from staying put. Several in Depot Hill have indeed decided to stay home and defy the call to evacuate. Their house is everything and they’ll do anything they can to defend it.
Living a few inches above water is not easy, but families are resourceful. A generator, tinned food and a few books will help them get through the worst. But access to a boat is vital. It will ensure delivery of groceries and hospital care if need be.
On the ‘mainland’ or the dry part of Rockhampton, emergency services are put in place. The evacuation centre is located some 15 km out of town. It’s run by Red Cross Australia and provides food, accommodation and entertainment to flood victims. A minibus is also taking people back and forth to the Recovery centre where victims can claim a bit of money – enough to get through the first few days.
It’ll take months before Rockhampton and the rest of Queensland can fully recover from this disaster. Defence forces have been flown in to help. Rebuilding will be of post-war proportions. The intensity of the rains is yet to be explained but some scientists are already blaming rising ocean temperatures.
A warmer world will be a wetter world.