Major flooding cuts off Gulf towns, closes airport as deluge heads south

Crocodiles have been sighted and residents evacuated as floodwaters surge across Queensland’s saturated remote northwest communities.

Mar 09, 2023, updated Mar 09, 2023
Essential supplies for the stranded community of Doomadgee landed from Cairns with heavy rain continuing to fall over saturated north-west Queensland. (Image: QFES)

Essential supplies for the stranded community of Doomadgee landed from Cairns with heavy rain continuing to fall over saturated north-west Queensland. (Image: QFES)

Flood warnings are in place for hundreds of kilometres of the Gulf’s inland rivers and creeks as a late-season monsoon trough continues to batter northern Australia.

Rainfall records have tumbled as the deluge lashed Queensland’s Far North, potentially isolating remote communities for weeks.

Supplies in the towns of Doomadgee and Burke are running low, with buying restrictions in place on essential food items.

Roads and highways are cut, with food now being transported by air to ensure adequate food supplies for the region.

Overnight, the system continued to batter the region, with falls of 278mm at Riversleigh and  220mm at Century Mine.

Julia Creek received 171mm, with 158mm at Dugald River and 148mm at Julius Dam.

Severe thunderstorms with heavy rainfall are forecast for Cloncurry and Rollingstone, and south of Croydon and Townsville.

The system will also bring widespread rain, thunderstorms and damaging wind gusts to parts of the Northern Territory, the Bureau of Meteorology has warned.

“Daily rainfall totals of 50mm to 100mm are likely, with isolated rainfall totals of 100mm to 200mm possible. Soils are saturated, meaning further rainfall will quickly impact river levels,” the BoM warns.

Flood watches are current for parts of the Top End, Central and Eastern Inland and Carpentaria Coastal catchments, much of northwest Queensland, and the North Tropical Coast.

A major flood warning is current for the Flinders and Cloncurry river systems, as well as the Nicholson, Gregory and Leichhardt rivers.

Moderate warnings have been issued for Eyre Creek, and minor warnings for the Georgina, Norman, Diamantina and Western rivers.

Burke Shire Mayor Ernie Camp has placed the region on alert, with low-lying residents to prepare for evacuation.

Floodwater at the Burketown airport has forced the runways to close, with all REX flights to Burketown cancelled and the Gregory airstrip and emergency airstrip remaining inaccessible.

A critical pump station in Burke has also been inundated, with residents warned of potential exposure to raw sewerage.

“There have been a number of evacuations in the shire to date,” Mayor Camp said.

“Council will continue to contact rural residents to ascertain their health and wellbeing.”

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He said an emergency food resupply had been planned for either Friday or Saturday.

“However, subject to weather and subsequent road closures, this may have to be pushed back,” Camp said.

Added to the danger, crocodiles have been spotted in the rising floodwaters surrounding the community.

“A few crocodiles have already been sighted in different areas of the community,” wildlife ranger in charge Zachariah Sowden said.

“Please take care when you are moving around the community close to the floodwaters, and stay out of the water where possible to limit a chance encounter with a crocodile.”

Queensland LNP leader David Crisafulli urged caution as the floodwaters continue to rise.

“I’ve spoken with the mayors of Burke, Doomadgee and Carpentaria,” Crisafulli said in a statement.

“Evacuations are taking place and we are hearing reports of homes and businesses impacted by floodwaters.

“There are also serious issues with livestock and fuel supplies. These communities are strong and resilient, but right now they are being tested.”

A Queensland Fire and Emergency Service spokeswoman said authorities were unsure how many people had been evacuated, with communication difficult across the state’s remote communities.


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