‘Record flooding’ emergency after two-metre deluge — and more to come

A flooding emergency is unfolding in Cairns and far north Queensland.

A flooding emergency is unfolding in Cairns and far north Queensland. Photo: Facebook

Homes have been inundated, people rescued from roofs and planes are under water as far north Queensland bears the aftermath of Cyclone Jasper, which is causing record flooding.

A “jaw-dropping” two metres of rain has been dumped on the Barron River, north-west of Cairns, since the cyclone crossed on Wednesday — and nearly one metre of that was over the weekend.

Cairns appears to be the worst-hit area, with dangerous and life-threatening flash flooding submerging suburbs and turning roads into river, amid warnings of even more rain on the way.

The unrelenting tropical downpour left planes partially submerged at Cairns Airport, forcing the cancellation of travel in and out of the tourist city, as the airport reached “above major flooding”.

The airport closed on Sunday afternoon, with floodwaters on the Barron River already at record height and expected to hit 4.4 metres.

Two hours north, the Daintree River has exceeded major record flooding levels, hitting 15 metres — above the 2019 record of 12.6 metres.

Cairns Airport is expected to surpass the record flood level. Photo: Facebook/Anthony Albanese

Authorities requested urgent assistance from the Australian Defence Force as an emergency unfolded late Sunday at beachside Cairns suburbs, where people had to be rescued from their rooftops.

Early on Monday, Deputy Premier Cameron Dick said what was unfolding up north had never been seen before.

The flooding in Cairns has been described as the worst in 100 years.

“But the problem is the rain is going to continue,” he said on ABC, adding the rainfall totals were “jaw-dropping”.

Premier Steven Miles was seeking help from small navy rescue boats from the HMAS Cairns naval base as the rain was forecast to continue throughout Monday and into Tuesday.

Emergency flood warnings were issued at Machans Beach, Holloways Beach and Yorkeys Knob on Sunday night, with residents urged to take shelter and not to expect emergency services to come to their door.

A woman whose son lives at Holloways Beach took to social media pleading for help as the “whole suburb” went under late Sunday.

“They are stranded. No roof high enough. No help coming. 000 say they’re too busy. SES sting too busy,” wrote Sharon Muir on Facebook.

“People are going to die tonight if Queensland doesn’t send in the army or something to rescue people.

“All the dams are bursting as well as king tides. There is now way in or out. Anyone with media contacts please can you let them know what’s going on to force some help. Social media is the only updates.”

Holloways Beach in Cairns is going under, locals say. Photo: Facebook/Sharon Muir

Deputy Police Commissioner and state disaster co-ordinator Shane Chelepy said some residents climbed onto roofs to escape floodwaters and were forced to wait for rescue.

“It was too dangerous for us to rescue them,” he said.

Authorities were in constant contact with the people until they were rescued, he said.

Residents and businesses in the Cairns region were told to use water only for emergency purposes as council’s treatment plants were offline.

QFES swift water rescue teams stationed across the region had received hundreds of requests for help as of Sunday.

Boats from the SES, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, surf lifesaving and water police were deployed after urgent calls for assistance in the area.

Further north, an emergency alert was issued for Wujal Wujal where major flooding from the Bloomfield River was affecting properties.

There have been evacuations and rescues, mostly at Mossman, Douglas, Gordonvale and Innisfail, and homes in low-lying areas have been inundated.

Roads including the Bruce Highway were cut off and several bridges were damaged beyond use.

Record rainfall

Weatherzone said there had been phenomenal rainfall in the past couple of days.

“A rain gauge at Myola, located on the Barron River to the northwest of Cairns, received more than 1056 millimetres of rain between 9am AEST on Saturday and 9pm Sunday,” it said.

“This brought the site’s running five-day total (9am Wednesday to 9pm Sunday) up to 1930 millimetres.

“One of the remarkable things about this weekend’s rainfall is how persistent and intense it has been around the Cairns and Daintree regions.

“A rain gauge at Black Mountain, located south of Craiglie, reported a whopping 672 millimetres during the 12 hours ending at 3pm AEST on Sunday.

“This is similar to the 665 millimetres recorded at Myola in the 12 hours ending at 6pm on Sunday.

“If valid, both observations beat the previous record for the highest 12-hour rainfall on record in Qld, which was 617 mm at Paluma in January 1972.”

Laura Boekel, of the Bureau of Meteorology, said the rainfall did not appear to be easing yet.

“The most likely scenario is that we will see the easing [rainfall] trend starting around Tuesday; we’re not looking at an immediate easing of this rainfall.

“It won’t take a lot of rainfall in these catchments to see more flooding.”

Early on Sunday, Miles said the situation was very serious and could get worse.

“We have police and fire and emergency services and SES on the ground doing a fantastic job,” he said.

“Do not make their job any harder. Do not put yourself risk. Do not drive through floodwaters.”

Damage to roads in the wake of Cyclone Jasper. Photo: Twitter/Anthony Albanese

There were no reports of serious injuries or missing people in the state’s north due to the disaster as of Sunday afternoon.

Additional government and non-government personnel were expected to arrive in the area on Monday to assist with the evolving situation.

Major roads had been cut, hampering the delivery of assistance to the Cairns area, Chelepy said.

“It’s definitely going to be challenging,” he said.

“The rain is that heavy we can’t get any helicopter support into the communities that are isolated.

“We’re going to stage most of these resources in Townsville and then look at our support from the Commonwealth as well as private resources to get them into the region.”

Roads have turned into rivers in the far north. Photo: Twitter/Anthony Albanese

The affected area was pre-emptively declared a disaster zone last week, to give local authorities additional powers to co-ordinate a response.

Federal disaster assistance has been extended to more areas, to help residents and local councils cover response and reconstruction costs.

Grants of $180 for individuals and up to $900 for a family of five or more are available to cover the costs of essentials such as food, clothing and medicine.

-with AAP

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