Weather Debbie’s toll: Four dead in a tide of water, mud and destruction

Debbie’s toll: Four dead in a tide of water, mud and destruction

NSW floods
Cars swept away in Murwillumbah in northern NSW. Photo: ABC News
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Four people are dead, at least three people are missing with grave fears held for their safety, and tens of thousands of evacuated residents remain unable to return to their homes as Cyclone Debbie’s torrential aftermath continues to reap its harvest of destruction.

From Lismore in NSW to Rockhampton in Queensland, the news was bad – and likely to get worse.

In the town of Logan, south of Brisbane, some evacuated homeowners returned as the flood waters receded. What many found was heartbreaking – possessions swept away, floors and walls caked with mud, no electricity and many streets still submerged.

Logan Mayor Luke Smith described the flooding as “the worst … in the history of our city”, higher than those of 1974 and with a wider impact than ever seen before.

In Lismore, piles of ruined, discarded furniture and sodden mattresses have begun to mushroom on streets caked with layers of mud that is inches deep.

With electricity supplies disrupted and no safe drinking water, locals face a Herculean task to get the ravaged town back on its feet.

“We’ve all banded together. I’ve cooked for all these people, because I’ve got a gas stove, so you do that,” Lismore resident Joanne Hourigan told the ABC.

“But then you’ve just got other people … just stopping, and we’ve just had a few people laughing at how much rubbish, and we’re there working away, and trying to help the people we can help.

“That’s the disappointing part.”

At least in Lismore the flooding has receded.

In Rockhamptom, anxious locals are awaiting the peak flow now rolling toward the town, with authorities fearing that as many as 5,400 properties, including 3,000 homes, will face inundation when the Fitzroy River reaches major flood levels on Monday, with the expected peaks of as much as as 9.4 metres anticipated for Wednesday.

The last time Rockhampton saw such an inundation was in 1954, all of 63 years ago.

Rockhampton airport is expected to close on Monday, with some airlines already suspending services. A temporary levee was erected around the airport and the suburb of Berserker.

Swift water rescue teams from Cairns, Townsville and Brisbane have been sent in preparation for possible rescues.

Police confirmed on Saturday evening that the body of 77-year-old Nelson Raebel, reported missing from Eagleby, south of Brisbane, on Friday, had been found by emergency crews just before 4pm on Saturday, reportedly close to where he was last seen. He became the first known Queensland fatality of the cyclone.

In the Hunter Valley, the body of a 64-year-old woman was found submerged in four metres of water on Friday afternoon, the day after her car was swept off a causeway at Gungal, about 170 kilometres north-west of Newcastle.

The Newcastle Herald reported the woman’s 74-year-old husband managed to escape from the vehicle.

The discovery came after the body of another woman was found on a property south of Murwillumbah in northern NSW around 8am on Friday.

Fears are held for a further three people who have been reported missing since the storm swept through Queensland and NSW last week. Mondure man David Heidemann, 50, was among those unaccounted for, while a man in his 60s has not been since Friday morning, when went bushwalking in Lamington National Park.

Flood victim Nelson Raebel.
Flood victim Nelson Raebel.

More than 30,000 people remain under flood evacuation orders on the NSW far north coast, and residents have been warned the flood situation is not over in NSW and Queensland, as the clean-up continues, and insurers fear a bill running into the billions of dollars.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejikilian has pleaded with locals to heed SES evacuation warnings as floods move south from the town of Lismore.

Six towns in the state have been asked to evacuate, including Tweed Heads and Lismore.

“It’s not safe to ask anybody to return to their homes,” Ms Berejiklian said of flood-affected areas in the state’s north.

The Pacific Motorway, the major road linking Queensland and NSW, has only  one lane open each way between Tweed River and Clothier Creek.

Queensland in line for more flooding

As Rockhampton braces for the worst, Police Commissioner Ian Stewart warned residents in low-lying areas of the town to start moving their property to higher ground.

A 21-person damage assessment team of specialists from South Australia’s SES, police and fire services are flying in to Coolangatta to assist Queensland authorities in recording the location and severity of damage to buildings, roads and bridges,plus other critical infrastructure such as schools and hospitals and sewerage systems

Queensland regional hydrology manager Victoria Dodds said Rockhampton was expected to be hit with major flooding as of Monday, explaining that the major flood peak was moving down the McKenzie River, with water levels at record highs.

“We’re expecting the waters to make their way down to Rockhampton, probably by the middle of next week, so about Wednesday, and the levels we expect at this point are between 9 and 9.4 metres,” Ms Dodds said.

“To put that in context, that could be higher than (the Queensland floods in) January, 2011, and could even reach the February, 1954, level,” she said.

Energy company Exergen reported than 23,000 properties in south-east Queensland remain without power, while more than 160,000 properties were blacked out at the height of the wild weather.

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