Four days of intensive heavy rain last week brought record water levels and flooding to North Queensland, with The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) declaring a catastrophe on Friday 9 March for areas affected, primarily the Cassowary Coast and Hinchinbrook regions.
Over the past week, an atmospheric low moved from north Queensland to the west, with many areas recording 500mm to 700mm of rain during that time. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) commented that the flood situation had seen communities isolated, schools closed, and highways cut off. They have also issued six daily rainfall records, while 30 of the bureau's rain gauges broke March records.
On Friday 9 March, major flooding occurred along the Herbert River at Ingham, recorded rainfall totals varied from 300mm to 600mm, with a recorded peak at Ingham Pumping Station around 14.7m, which is similar to the February 2009 flood levels. Up to 300 mm of rainfall fell around the towns of Innisfail and Halifax in 24 hours, with Cairns recording 159mm in the 24 hours to 05:00 on Saturday 10 March, as the wet weather pushed further North.
Flooding impacted 225 homes around Ingham and Halifax. At Ingham, floodwaters from a creek divided the town in two. The Bruce Highway, which serves an estimated 200,000 residents along a 400 km stretch of the coastal road from Ingham to Cooktown, was inaccessible in both directions outside of Ingham.
More than 70 schoolchildren and some staff had become trapped by the rising waters at a school camp north of Ingham and were later airlifted to safety on the 9 March. Crocodiles, tarantulas and snakes have been sighted escaping rising flood waters.
Rain started to ease on Saturday 10 March. However, the BoM states that further disruption may be on the way later this week, with a potential cyclone gathering in the waters off the Queensland and Northern Territory coast.
For most of the region, the focus is turning from response to recovery. The full extent of the damage caused by the rain will not be known for weeks, but early indications are that flooding could have a detrimental impact on banana and sugar cane crops, and the aquaculture industry. Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford was recorded as saying damages to infrastructure, particularly the road network, is estimated to amount to many millions of dollars.
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