Australia begins flood aid airlift
Emergency services ferry supplies to town of Rockhampton, as swollen rivers leave 10 dead in country's severe flooding.
Last Modified: 03 Jan 2011 20:45 GMT
Fitzroy river, which is already overflowing into the town of Rockhampton, is predicted to keep rising [EPA]

Australia's military has begun airlifting essential food and supplies to parts of the northeastern state of Queensland where forecasters say floodwaters may not peak for two more days.

Warren Snowdon, acting defence minister, said a C-130 carrying food, medical supplies and other items landed in the city of Mackay on Monday with supplies to be ferried by road south to Rockhampton, local media reported.

Waters from the still-swelling Fitzroy river have closed the airport in the coastal city of about 75,000 people.

The floods have also cut the main highway leading to the state capital of Brisbane and forced scores of families to abandon their homes for relief centres set up on higher ground.

Authorities cautioned that the Fitzroy would continue rising until late on Tuesday or early on Wednesday local time.

Residents evacuated

Officials have been evacuating Rockhampton residents for days and Brad Carter, the mayor, has given

warning that about 40 per cent of the city could be affected by the surging waters. Carter said residents may have to wait at least two weeks before returning home.

Rockhampton, Queensland's biggest town, is cut off by rising floodwaters

Police officials said they had increased their patrols of flooded towns with uniformed officers wading thigh-deep through floodwaters. They did not confirm any reports of looting.

Some residents, however, said cars and homes had been broken into and items stolen.

Meanwhile, the streets of the nearby town of Emerald are lined with the ruined remains of the community.

Household goods, carpets, curtains, and building supplies are waiting to be collected and thrown in the town's refuse heap.

Beryl Callaghan, a flood victim, said she lost most of her belongings.

"It is hard. It's terribly hard. We worked a lifetime for it to get this stuff together and end up with nothing in the end," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Death toll rises

Floodwaters that cover an area the size of France and Germany combined are draining slowly towards the country's northeast coast, filling bulging rivers and inundating at least 22 towns and cities in the cattle and fruit and vegetable farming region.

Police on Monday confirmed two more deaths in the crisis.

The death toll from some of Australia's worst flooding in a decade is three since Saturday, though police in Queensland state say several other people drowned in separate incidents involving swollen rivers and water accidents since tropical deluges began in late November.

In total, 10 people have died, police said on Monday.

State authorities say about 200,000 people have been affected by the floods. Julia Gillard, the prime minster, extended on Monday emergency relief to them, including low-interest loans to farmers to begin cleaning up and get their businesses running again.

The wet weather that triggered the flooding has eased and water levels were dropping in some towns.

But officials said about one thousand people were living in evacuation centres across Queensland and it may be a month before the floodwaters dry up completely.

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