Australia town becomes latest to be hit by floods

A swollen river submerged bridges and inundated homes and stores Sunday in another town in Australia’s sodden Queensland state, where more heavy rain meant little respite from the country’s worst flooding in decades.

Maryborough became the latest of some 40 towns to be left partly awash as the river running through it burst its banks and entered parts of the town of 22,000, which has been heavily protected behind sandbags and levies.

Two houses, a mobile home park and about seven businesses near the river were inundated, and two bridges in the town were underwater, police Superintendent Stephen Wardrope said. The water was expected to peak later Sunday, and then to slowly recede.

Heavy rain fell Sunday across southeastern Queensland, which officials say has almost no capacity to absorb more water after weeks of downpours submerged an area the size of Germany and France combined.

Ten people have died since late November and about 200,000 have been affected by the floods. Roads and rail lines have been cut, Queensland’s big-exporting coal mine industry has virtually shut down, and cattle ranching and farming across a large part of the state are at a standstill.

Towns in the path of floodwaters have had time to prepare with sandbags and levies, and officials say the rain falling now is not expected to make the crisis significantly worse.

A massive relief operation has moved from emergency operations to recovery.

Residents of some of the 40 affected towns have returned home and begun mopping up sludge left behind by the floods, while others — like in the biggest community hit, the city of Rockhampton, home to 75,000 people — are waiting for floodwaters to recede to start the cleanup.

Officials say it will be another week before the river level drops, and that the situation will stay miserable in the meantime for many people, with dirty, stagnant water covering large parts of the city.

“The issue of the stench, the question of the mosquitoes, sand flies and black flies … will be very uncomfortable to our community,” Rockhampton Mayor Brad Carter told reporters.

In St. George, a town farther inland, residents waited for floodwaters to start receding after topping out on Saturday below the level that forecasters had earlier expected. About 10 houses were believed to be affected, including one that was flooded when a levy around it collapsed, Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio reported.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard flew Saturday to several towns cut off by floodwaters or that were partially underwater, and promised residents they would be fully restored. The army general in charge of the operation says it might take years to fix all the damaged roads, rail lines and bridges.

Queensland officials have said the price of rebuilding homes, businesses and infrastructure, coupled with economic losses, could be as high as $5 billion.