Rescue workers airlift residents from remote floods in Australia

A handout photo taken by the Queensland Police Service on March 10 shows the flooded north Queensland town of Burketown. Police have urged all residents of the remote Australian city to evacuate and warned that record flooding is expected.

Rescue workers flew residents by helicopter from a remote Australian town on Saturday as record flooding mounted rapidly and authorities issued a “final warning” to evacuate.

Police said helicopters and other planes had already evacuated 53 vulnerable people from the small community of Burketown in north-eastern Australia over the past few days.

Murky water lapped the sides of buildings in the city, which is 1,000 miles northwest of the Queensland capital Brisbane and is typically home to around 200 people.

The swollen Albert River had turned vast tracts of land around the city into lakes with only the treetops visible, aerial photos taken by emergency services showed.

Police said about half of the city’s homes were flooded.

As of Saturday morning, only about 100 people remained in the Queensland city and helicopters were taking more people to safety, state police said.

“Right now, water movement is unpredictable and increasing rapidly,” local Burke Shire Council said in a “final warning” to residents.

“We strongly encourage residents to evacuate,” it said, urging them to pack a bag and warning there would be no evacuation flights after Saturday.

Evacuated resident Shannon Moren told public broadcaster ABC she was concerned about the impact of the flooding on livestock.

Rescue workers airlift residents from remote floods in Australia

This handout photo, taken March 10 by the Queensland Police Service, shows the flooded north Queensland town of Burketown. Police have urged residents of the remote Australian town to evacuate and warned that record flooding is expected.

cows swim

“I was checking my parents’ cattle property the other day and you see cattle up to their necks in water, literally swimming for their lives,” she said.

The police also asked all other residents to leave the house.

The older and young children will be given priority in the evacuation, Queensland Police said in a statement, adding that the sewerage system had been “compromised” and power was also being cut.

“It is not certain that people will stay,” police said.

After heavy rains, which have since eased, the Albert River surpassed a March 2011 record of 6.78 meters (22 feet), the Queensland Meteorological Office said.

The flow rose to more than seven meters on Friday and is not expected to peak until Sunday, the meteorologist said.

Australia has been battered by torrential rains for the past two years, driven by successive La Nina climate cycles over the Pacific.

But the country’s weather bureau has forecast drier and warmer weather in the coming months as La Nina nears its end.

A catastrophic flooding on the east coast in March last year – caused by storms in Queensland and New South Wales – claimed more than 20 lives.

Later in the year, flash floods swept through parts of eastern Australia, forcing evacuations in Sydney in July and ripping houses from their foundations in some rural towns in November.

Australian researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change is increasing the risk of natural disasters.

© 2023 AFP

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