February 4, 2009

Australian Floods Bring In The Crocs

Crocodiles were washed onto the streets after floods ravaged northern Australia, authorities said in a warning to residents Wednesday.

Over 60 percent of the northeastern state of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone, and close to 3,000 homes have been affected by flooding after two recent cyclones, according to authorities.

Army troops have been called in to help with rescue, while three reports of large crocodiles washed up from flooded rivers have come in from homes in the Gulf of Carpentaria region.

"I'm not sure if it's the same crocodile moving around -- on the three sides of Normanton there's been a large croc seen right up close to the water's edge," said mayor Joyce Zahner.

"Hopefully he'll stay in the water and the kids will stay on the land," Zahner told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

On Tuesday, in the city of Townsville, a 5.3 foot long crocodile was run over by a car on a street, wildlife rangers said.

They said the croc lost a few teeth and suffered bruising, but was receiving medical attention.

According to local authorities, four Chinese tourists were rescued after their camper van was swept from a remote causeway in far northern Queensland into high waters.

No one in the group could swim, and they were huddle up on the car's roof for over an hour before being winched to safety suffering from mild hypothermia.

Emergency authorities said that in the worst flooded town of Ingham, 2,900 homes were hit, including 50 which were totally swamped.

Dozens of people were evacuated to emergency accommodation in a nearby school as over 14 inches of rain fell in a 24 span from Tuesday morning.

Neil Roberts, Queensland state's emergency services minister, said the damage bill is estimated at $76 million and growing.

"But we won't really know the full extent of the damage until the water subsides, so that figure could double, it could treble," he said, adding that it was the worst flooding he had seen in the area in 30 years.

Fresh food and supplies were flown into the westerly townships of Normanton and Karumba, which were cut off by flood waters for a number of days.

Forecasters said the region is bracing for further floods, with a tropical low pressure system threatening to develop into a cyclone about 93 miles off Queensland's north coast.

"The conditions -- as far as meteorological conditions are concerned -- are quite favorable for the system to once again develop into a tropical cyclone," a weather bureau spokesman said.

The floods have come during a record heat-wave of the century in south-eastern Australia, in which 29 houses were razed by major wildfires and up to 35 people died.

Meteorologists have warned the extreme temperatures and downpours would only increase as a result of climate change.