Stranded residents sheltered on a hospital roof as flash floods swamped northeastern Australia on Monday, with raging waters severing roads and flushing crocodiles into towns.
Rescue teams evacuated more than 300 people overnight, police said, and military helicopters were dispatched to help inundated areas cut off by the floods.
Damage was reported along an expanse of coastline that stretched about 400 kilometres (250 miles) across northern Queensland state.
Resort manager Cassie Hounslow said entire houses were submerged in Mossman, a small inland town at the foot of the heritage-listed Daintree rainforest.
“Houses have gone under. I mean some houses have been fully engulfed,” she told AFP.
Tumbling boulders triggered by a landslide had “smashed one of the roads”, Hounslow said, and a major highway out of Mossman was “pretty much buggered”, she said.
With another deluge expected Monday, Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick said the unfolding disaster would have a “billion-dollar impact” on the state.
– ‘Sea of mud’ –
Nine people, including a seven-year-old patient, huddled for safety overnight on the roof of a hospital in the largely Aboriginal settlement of Wujal Wujal.
“We know that those people are in a desperate way now,” said Kiley Hanslow, the chief executive of the Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shire Council.
Police said the group clambered to a safer location before floodwaters rose again on Monday afternoon.
An attempt to evacuate those remaining in the town had to be abandoned, the shire council said.
“Unfortunately the helicopters couldn’t get through… it was too dangerous to get the choppers through,” the council said in a statement on social media.
“They will try to get through again as soon as they can.”
Surrounded by a mountainous hinterland of tropical rainforest, hard-to-reach Wujal Wujal is one of the most disadvantaged regions in Australia.
Hanslow told national broadcaster ABC the town — typically home to 300 people — was a “sea of dirty water and mud”.
“There’s also crocodiles swimming around in that water now,” she said.
Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said floodwaters would likely wash “crocs and all sorts of other things” into residential areas.
“You would recall from past events we’ve had sharks, crocs, you name it,” she told reporters.
Wildlife officers in the rural town of Ingham used a lasso to catch a crocodile that had been bathing in shallow water next to houses.
– ‘Next level’ rains –
Queensland has been pummelled by damaging winds and driving rain in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Jasper, which barrelled in off the Coral Sea late last week.
The tourist hub of Cairns has been almost completely surrounded by the floods, which have washed over major highways running into the city of 150,000 people.
Locals used ropes to try and rescue helpless livestock swept away by the torrents on the outskirts of Cairns.
Stagnant pools of floodwater lapped against the wings of planes parked at the Cairns international airport.
“This level of rainfall is next level,” Queensland Premier Steven Miles told reporters on Monday.
“We deployed literally every boat we could get our hands on in Cairns to evacuate those who couldn’t safely evacuate themselves.”
Miles said authorities were starting to worry about the dwindling supplies of clean drinking water, urging people to conserve “as much as they can”.
The Australian military used two heavy-lifting Chinook helicopters to ferry supplies and personnel into flood-stricken towns.
Police Commissioner Carroll said authorities were thankful they had not seen any deaths or serious injuries during the emergency so far.
Researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change amplifies the risk of natural disasters such as bushfires, floods and cyclones.