Heavy rains threatened further flooding in Australia's drenched northeast Thursday as besieged Rockhampton cut supplies to "irresponsible" residents who refused to leave water-bound homes.
Torrential downpours could cause flash-flooding and worsen existing floods, the weather bureau said, as water levels slowly started to recede in regional centre Rockhampton, a town virtually surrounded by a brown inland sea.
Australia's coal-mining and farming belt near Brisbane is suffering "biblical" floods across an area the size of Texas, after La Nina, a weather system, deluged Queensland state with its wettest year on record.
|Emergency personnel look for residents in need of evacuation after the swollen Fitzroy River broke its banks and flooded the city of Rockhampton on January 5, 2011|
Waters peaked in Rockhampton at lower levels than feared and slowly started to recede, while downstream other communities braced for the floods. The disaster, described as the state's worst, has inundated or cut off 40 towns.
Entire towns have been airlifted as the murky tide gushes across Queensland, destroying crops, roads and bridges and sweeping 10 people to their deaths, along with thousands of animals.
The crisis has cost about Aus$1 billion ($1 billion US) in lost production at Queensland's coking coal mines, which account for half the world's supply, putting upward inflationary pressure on the shaky global economy.
Meanwhile, thousands of people have evacuated or are trying to salvage homes and belongings, while dealing with the threat of poisonous snakes, crocodiles and disease-carrying mosquitoes as they negotiate the sludge and rain.
Rockhampton's mayor Brad Carter angrily slammed residents, including those with children, who refused to evacuate and now relied on food and groceries brought by emergency personnel wading through snake-infested waters.
"We have taken a decision, and we make it very clear, that we cannot put emergency services resources at risk bringing in those supplies," Carter said.
"They have to now respect and understand that because they make that choice... they will not be getting resupply of essential services, goods and grocery items provided by emergency services personnel."
Acting police superintendent David Peff said that wading into the waters -- sometimes up to chest height -- was dangerous for his men and backed the mayor's pleas to isolated residents in the town of 75,000.
"Every time we put police or SES (State Emergency Service) people into that water... my personal concern is people that are helping will end up being bitten by a snake," Peff told reporters.
Residents of Condamine, which was completely evacuated, were making their way back to the deserted town, while only about 100 of Emerald's 11,000 inhabitants remained in emergency shelters as of Wednesday night.
Australia's sodden 2010 -- the third wettest year on record -- broke a decade-old drought in some areas and brought the unusual sight of waterfalls cascading off Uluru, or Ayers Rock, as torrents raced along parched riverbeds.
Lush, green landscapes in New South Wales state forced film-makers to postpone shooting for "Mad Max 4", set in a post-apocalypse desert, while an Outback yachting regatta went ahead for the first time in 10 years.