Observers
Video posted on YouTube
 
Hundreds of people fled worsening floods in the north-eastern Australian state of Queensland on Thursday as river levels continued to rise. Our Observer, on vacation in the region with her husband, was one of them.
 
Floods triggered by tropical cyclone Tasha have hit the farming and mining belt near Brisbane particularly hard, cutting road and rail links and crippling the region's all-important coal production.
 
Some 22 towns have been flooded and thousands of acres of farmland left under water, affecting over 200,000 people and destroying most of the region’s banana, mango and sugar-cane crops. Local officials have warned of food shortages in isolated areas and possible disease outbreaks from contaminated water.
 
"This is a disaster on an unprecedented scale," Queensland premier Anna Bligh told reporters. "What we've never seen is so many towns, so many communities, so many regions all affected at once. It is a miserable and heart-breaking event," she added.

“People are putting on a brave face, but the aftershock is going to be very hard”

 
Maria Ericksen, from Sydney, Australia, was on her way to the north of Queensland with her husband in their four-wheel-drive pick-up truck when the floods hit. They were forced to turn back. She wrote about her experience on her blog.
 
We spent five hours on December 29 struggling to drive from Dalby to Barrick, a journey that usually takes thirty minutes. At one point, we were going down a road that the state government’s information website said was open (apparently they had trouble keeping up with the real-time updates), only to find ourselves nearly a metre deep in water. The water was practically going over the hood of the car, we really thought our motor would give in. A strong current was pushing us from the left and the car was drifting dangerously sideways. We couldn’t move forward, we couldn’t make a U-turn. All we could do was go into reverse as fast as we could until we were able to turn onto another road.
 
The town of Dalby was badly hit by the floods on December 30. Video posted by Maria Ericksen on YouTube.
 
We came across many other cars that weren’t as lucky. Most ordinary two-wheel-drive cars had absolutely no chance of driving through the water. They were completely stuck, and their drivers were sitting on the hoods, waiting for tow trucks to come and get them. We saw several uprooted trees drifting around - everything was made more dangerous by the fact that you couldn’t see what was going on under the water.
 
“Drivers were sitting on the hoods of their cars, waiting for tow trucks to come and get them. We saw several uprooted trees drifting around”
 
From what I saw the authorities were doing a good job coping with the disaster. The military were very active, helping stranded divers and directing people to safety. There were helicopters everywhere, rescuing people stuck in remote locations (Queensland is as big as Germany and France put together, and a lot of it is sparsely populated farmland).  I even saw a news helicopter from the Channel 9 TV station help rescue a family stuck on the roof of its house. There was also a great community spirit: people were spontaneously helping each other out, locals assisted stranded travellers.
 
Crossing a flooded road in Dalby. A few hours later, the town was closed off to the rest of the country. Video posted by Maria Ericksen on YouTube.
 
Even so, I got the impression that although everyone was trying to put on a brave face, the aftershock was going to be very hard. Twenty-two towns have been flooded, hundreds of families have lost their homes. We met a couple who had been rescued from the roof of their house the day before but were forced to leave behind their dogs, because the helicopter couldn’t take them. They were trying to go back to rescue them with ropes and equipment, and you could see the agony in the woman’s face at the thought that they may have drowned. This is a large-scale catastrophe that is obviously going to cause a lot of heartache and devastation. It will take at least a year to repair the damaged infrastructure, and even longer for farms to recover.
 
“It will take at least a year to repair the damaged infrastructure, and even longer for the farms to recover”
 
We were able to leave Queensland yesterday and are now driving through Victoria. I feel very luck to have been able to get out: I spoke to a friend on the phone who is stuck in Rockhampton: she told me there is no more food and water in stores, and that city water has been contaminated and can’t be drunk. The situation risks going from bad to worse for affected populations."
 
Our Observer filmed the damage caused by torrential rain on the road between Dalby and Warrick. Video posted on YouTube