State disaster declared as flood waters rise in outback Queensland
A state disaster has been declared as flood waters rise in south-west Queensland.
It is expected that Mitchell could see the Maranoa river rise from 9.6 metres up to 10 metres tonight, a record level for the outback town, while police advised that most local roads were flooded in Roma as water continues to rise.
Premier Anna Bligh said Queensland Police Service Deputy Commissioner Ian Stewart would be the State Disaster Co-ordinator responsible for disaster response operations.
"Ian Stewart was at my side during last year's natural disasters and as the emergency unfolds in the south-west it is heartening to have him in the position again," she said.
"The Deputy Commissioner did an outstanding job last year and that experience will stand him in good stead.
"We are in new territory here. The water coming through is breaking records for this region," said the Premier.
"I have been in direct contact with mayors and the situation is unfolding. I will visit these regions as soon as it is safe and practicable to do so."
Families on stations around Mitchell are being flown to higher ground as flood levels continue to rise.
Maranoa mayor Robert Loughnan said choppers had trouble getting off the ground today because of heavy cloud and a larger helicopter was being brought in to help with evacuations.
"We have a number of missions we want done and we know of a number of properties around Mitchell where people are very concerned for their safety," he said.
"An emergency Queensland helicopter is on the way; it's bigger and better able to handle the adverse conditions."
Mr Loughnan said about half the houses in Mitchell now had water through them.
Ms Bligh said 192 people were in the town's evacuation centre and the hospital had been evacuated.
"We are in new territory here. The water coming through is breaking records for this region," she said.
"Five schools have been closed, including Mitchell SS which was converted into an evacuation centre overnight and the department is keeping a close watch on 10 other schools."
The Premier said five long-stay aged-care patients were moved to the Maranoa Retirement Village and three acute patients were evacuated from Mitchell.
"Two pregnant women have also been evacuated from Mitchell to Roma although the Mitchell Hospital's emergency unit remains open and staffed for any patients seeking care."
Ms Bligh said joint state and federal government disaster relief and recovery arrangements had been activated in 11 local government areas.
"Almost 100 roads are closed across the state and three major rail lines - The Mount Isa, The Western Line and Central Line closed - the Westlander, Inlander and Spirit of the Outback services are affected," she said.
Mr Loughnan said 100 homes in Mitchell were expected to be inundated by this evening.
"It'll be a struggle for them and also here in Roma today - this is a major event and the fact that Roma's been through this three times now in the past three years doesn't make it any easier for people."
Mr Loughnan said people in Roma were being warned to prepare their homes and move to higher ground with the flood peak expected tonight.
Early predictions from the weather bureau of a peak around 7.5 metres have been pushed up.
"In a telephone hook-up we just had with the Premier and others they've revised that and they say it could be closer to the 2010 level of 8.1 metres.
"It's at 6.6 now and rising pretty rapidly."
The mayor said in the past couple of years one or two catchments fed local flooding but this time the situation was worse.
"In this case we've got every single catchment upstream from Roma contributing to the situation and it's the same in Mitchell.
"It's chockers all the way up - they had four inches [100mm] last night and there's just nowhere for the water to go - it's not going to go up and down in half a day; it's going to hang around for quite a while until it drains."
The Department of Community Safety said floodwaters from Mitchell would impact on St George in coming days, but the Balonne River was now expected to peak at 13.6 metres, down from the earlier prediction of 14 metres.
Extra State Emergency Service and Emergency Management Queensland crews would arrive in Roma and St George today or tomorrow.
And a Special Operations unit from Queensland Ambulance, which includes medical supplies and a tactical medical centre, is being established in St George with six relief paramedics from the special response team deployed in Roma to help locals and people in Mitchell.
Ms Bligh later told reporters the government would do all it could to support flood-hit communities.
"We know there'll be a lot of heartache and we'll certainly be out there to help them as much as possible," she said.