Thousands urged to leave homes as Townsville floods continue

Author
Newstalk ZB, news.com.au,
Section
Audio,
Publish Date
Monday, 4 February 2019, 5:41p.m.
Some suburbs are completely submerged, with some houses flooded up to their second storey. (Photo / Getty)

Locals are taking to social media to beg for their lives as rescuers race against the clock to save thousands of people from rising floodwaters in north Queensland.

Rescue teams from police, SES and the Australian Army worked through the night to grab dozens of Townsville families perched on top of their kitchen benches, cars and even rooftops.

Other residents on higher ground are nervously waiting inside their homes to see just how far flood waters will rise after unprecedented releases from the city's swollen dam.

Emergency services evacuate residents from flooded parts of Townsville. Photo / QFES

Emergency services evacuate residents from flooded parts of Townsville. Photo / QFES

Two police officers who were evacuating people in the suburb of Hermit Park had to be rescued themselves when fast rising waters left them clinging to trees and washed away their patrol car.

Two other people were plucked to safety from the roof of their car at Hyde Park nearby.

Soldiers are using every boat they can get their hands on to evacuate Townsville residents amid fears up to 2000 properties may have been inundated.

Residents in 21 suburbs were on high alert overnight for flash flooding and emergency services.

Dozens of panicked locals have taken to social media to request rescues as floodwaters continue to rise, news.com.au reports.

Australian Defence Force soldiers sent a handful of boats into the Townsville suburb of Idalia last night to rescue residents trapped on rooftops and kitchen benches.

"Anyone out there with a boat please go to … Springbank Circuit, Idalia. My wife is going to drown with my two-year-old child," Stewart Close wrote in a flood watch group on Facebook.

"Need help still waiting for emergency services been six and a half hours. Another six we won't be here. Water is raising (sic) fast," his wife Bronywn had previously written.

All roads in Idalia, a suburb in the south of Townsville, were cut off last night after the flood gates of the Ross River dam were fully open causing the banks of the river to swell.

Police assist in the evacuation of residents in flood-hit Townsville. Photo / Queensland Police

Police assist in the evacuation of residents in flood-hit Townsville. Photo / Queensland Police

Another Idalia resident took to Facebook late last night to ask for help saying their house was "filling up with water".

"Can anyone please help," Nicole Brewster wrote.

"We are at … Ransome St, Idalia and our house is filling up with water. We called SES an hour ago and still waiting. They have just opened the flood gates more and we should expect higher flooding. I'm really scared."

Australian Army soldiers spent the night evacuating around 400 residents from Idalia telling locals they were working as fast as possible. The suburb had waist-height water overnight.

Dozens of other locals have posted via social media they're perched on kitchen benches and their rooftops awaiting rescues.

"Please we are stuck … Lakewood Dr waiting for SES for hours. We have a six-year-old and a large dog, neither can swim doors (sic) anyone have a boat they can get to us please? We have a grey ute out the front (for as long as it can be seen anyway). We're knee deep in water rising steadily," another Townsville resident wrote.

Crocodiles have been spotted outside suburban homes. Floodwaters are also full of snakes, with authorities telling people they must stay out of the water.

Helicopters have been supporting the army in the rescue effort today.

"Anyone who is not on a second storey has water moving through their house," Major Beau Hodge told reporters.

Major Hodge said his own home was "gone" and he had to evacuate his own family from Idalia on Sunday night. He couldn't say how many people are still stuck in the area.

"I'm lucky my family are safe and well. We'll be all right."

More than 1000 calls for help were logged by the State Emergency Service and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services in the past 24 hours, most of them in Townsville.

The Townsville City Council estimates up to 2000 properties may have been affected by floodwaters, but there's no way to be sure just yet.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk praised the work of emergency services earlier today but warned residents it wasn't over yet.

"We've never seen anything like this before," she told Today. "In Queensland, of course, we're used to seeing natural disasters, but Townsville has never seen the likes of this.

"Don't go sightseeing, if you don't need to be out on the roads, don't be. We haven't yet got to the peak … it will continue for the next 24 to 48 hours … this monsoonal pressure will keep shifting, so we don't know where it's going to dump the water."

Palaszczuk said 900 people were sheltering in evacuation centres, and they were getting full but it was possible more centres would be opened up.

As of 10am Queensland time, a sixth evacuation centre had opened after one of the existing sites said it was full and couldn't take any more people. About 1000 people have taken refuge in those centres.

Authorities are begging locals to listen to emergency services as they're faced with at least another 24 hours of heavy rain and potential for flash flooding.

Townsville mayor Jenny Hill praised the work of emergency services but said "last night was rough".

"We're doing everything possible to keep people safe so please heed the warnings. It's very difficult for us to predict what is going to happen over the next 24 hours so I would say to the community of Townsville, please stay strong," Hill said.

Australian soldiers from 3CER help deliver sandbags to Townsville residents in the suburb of Railway Estate. Photo / Getty

Australian soldiers from 3CER help deliver sandbags to Townsville residents in the suburb of Railway Estate. Photo / Getty

"We've been giving warnings for the last three days, we doorknocked the areas previously to warn people there was a significant risk, in fact some people were doorknocked twice.

"You can't say you weren't warned that something would happen. This is why we did this and we asked people to move to higher ground, secure their premises and move.

"Fundamentally we've tried to get the message out there and into the night we knew some people may not have heeded those warnings... Fundamentally the public have a responsibility to heed those warnings.

"Some people thought that they could get through this... and that hasn't been the case."

While rainfall in the Townsville area wasn't as bad as feared overnight authorities ordered the flood gates of the Ross River dam to be opened after capacity peaked at 250 per cent.

The Bureau of Meteorology has estimated that a further 450mm of rain will have fallen over the Ross River Dam catchment in the 24 hours to 9am on Monday.

At 4am on Monday, the dam was sitting at 242 per cent of capacity, despite an order last night to fully open its flood gates and double the amount of water being released to almost 2000 cubic metres per second.

Emergency services slosh through flooded streets to get to residents in Townsville. Photo / QFES

Emergency services slosh through flooded streets to get to residents in Townsville. Photo / QFES

That order sparked warnings that 21 suburbs could see flash flooding, including high velocity flows that could kill people.

The trough that's been dumping flooding rain on north Queensland's east coast, and drought-hit parts of western Queensland, will drive the state's emergency for days to come.

Intense rain with significant flash flooding is expected between Ingham and Bowen, and possibly as far south as Mackay, extending inland to Mt Isa near the Northern Territory border.

Authorities have also warned of the potential for tornado-strength winds, and have observed offshore tornadoes but so far tornadoes have not been seen in coastal communities.

Unprecedented water releases from the city's swollen dam have sent torrents of water down the Ross River and into the city, swamping roads, yards and homes. Crocodiles have been spotted in suburban streets, and the water is teeming with snakes.

It's unclear how many more homes may have been inundated. On Sunday, the figure was between 400 and 500.

Townsville residents fill sandbags in preparation for more flooding. Photo / Getty

But that was before dam releases were doubled in anticipation of more rain, sending almost 2000 cubic metres of water per second charging out of the Ross River Dam.

Authorities have warned between 10,000 and 20,000 homes could be at risk.

The Premier said the dam had been managed well, and the council did what it had to do.

"That water needs to go somewhere. From what I can tell, they've done everything from the book," she said.