2 Jan 2011

Queensland floods claim first victim

9:59 pm on 2 January 2011

Flooding in Queensland has inundated more than 20 towns and cities with its first victim a woman whose car was swept off the road by the water.

The 41-year-old woman's body was found on Sunday in the flooded Leichardt River in Queensland's Gulf Country.

She had disappeared on Saturday night when the car she was travelling in was washed off a causeway near Burketown.

An air, land and sea search is still continuing for a man missing near Gladstone in central Queensland.

But authorities have suspended the search for a man who was seen swimming in the Fitzroy River in Rockhampton early on Sunday, but has not been seen since.

Police say the man was not located and there have been no official reports of a missing person.

Queensland's Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts says people are still ignoring repeated warnings to stay off flooded roads.

Flooding widespread

Police in Australia say the flood-affected area is now three times the size of New Zealand.

Twenty-two Queensland towns and cities have been either inundated or isolated by the worst flooding for 50 years.

Emergency teams from New South Wales and Victoria have been called in to help.

While floodwaters have receded in some areas, residents of the city of Rockhampton are keeping a nervous watch on the Fitzroy River which has broken its banks and is slowly filling low-lying suburbs on Sunday, the ABC reports.

More and more homes are being evacuated and power turned off in low-lying areas of the city which has a population of about 77,000.

Depot Hill is one of the worst-hit areas. Resident Neville Zac has lived in the suburb since 1956 and says he's had better starts to the new year.

"It's not a real good one, but then again, we had a big drought for 10 years. So this is nature's way of getting back at us, I think," he joked.

Authorities say water is swamping parts of the city faster than originally forecast, and they are considering forced evacuations.

The Fitzroy River reached 8.8 metres on Sunday and is expected to peak by Wednesday, flooding up to 400 homes.

The Bruce Highway, south of the city, has been closed and the airport was shut down on Saturday afternoon.

In the town of Emerald, floodwaters have washed through more than 1000 houses and damaged 95% of businesses after the Nogoa River swamped the area last week.

Water levels are dropping on Sunday, but police are refusing to allow residents to check on their damaged homes, saying it is still too dangerous.

The flood peak is expected to pass through the inland town of Surat on Monday night or Tuesday morning at 13 metres.