Low-lying homes in the central Queensland township of Sapphire have been evacuated and some people have been rescued from rooftops after a severe storm dumped more than 200 millimetres of rain early on Wednesday.
Up to 215 millimetres fell into the Retreat Creek catchment, rapidly pushing the creek – which skirts the southern end of the town – to a major flood level.
The Bureau of Meteorology issued an emergency alert just before 5am, warning that low-lying areas would be affected. Evacuations began before dawn.
Disaster co-ordinator for the Central Highlands Regional Council Glenn Bell said the SES had already rescued a “number of people”.
A person was rescued from the top of their car by another local on Rubyvale Road, about five kilometres from township.
“The SES has been out and had to assist people from the roof of their houses,” Mr Bell said.
“We’ve had a number of people stranded in floodwaters who have also had to be rescued.
“That all has been undertaken successfully at this stage.
“The big thing that we are going to have to do here is just wait until the floodwaters recede and we get teams into the area to understand the damage that has occurred and what assistance is needed.”
The catchment is described as short and while waters are expected to recede quickly, they are yet to do so, Mr Bell said.
The Sapphire and Rubyvale areas are cut off at this stage.
Central Highlands Mayor Kerry Hayes said the caravan park had been evacuated and it was estimated that 30 to 60 residents on the flats could be affected.
“They need to get moving,” he said.
“As far as we know, those people that are in any harm’s way, have moved to higher ground or moved to the SES shed.
“The difficulty is that the Gemfields is a very strong tourist attraction area and there may be tourists there that are not familiar with that.
“We need to inspect some property and just make sure we cover those people.”
Short, sharp burst
Mr Hayes said flash flooding in short, sharp bursts was common to the Sapphire terrain.
However, a flood of this size hadn’t been seen in the area for more than a decade.
“The catchment there is very short, you’ll see a spike in that water and then a decrease,” he said.
“I’ve spoken this morning to people on the ground at Sapphire, the creek’s come up quite sharp and hard and may go down just as quickly because there’s not that much water behind it.
“That’s the risk we have to manage.”
More rain is forecast for the central Queensland area on Wednesday night.
Resident Pat Vine said she saw some areas inundated early on Wednesday morning.
“There are [mining] claims [with water] nearly up to the roof,” she said.
“Unfortunately that’s a lot people, because it happened at night, they didn’t get the warnings and they woke up and saw their places in flood.”
Ewan Letts runs the local caravan park and said he moved visitors out before sunlight.
“We only had about seven vans in the park that we were able to evacuate safely,” he said.
“It is not as big an event as we’ve had in the past as in 2011, but still of some concern.
“The bridge is still definitely well under water.”