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Record Breaking Rain Brings Dangerous Flooding to Northern Australia

Royal Australian Navy personnel work with civilian emergency services to evacuate members of the public in Cairns, Australia, Dec. 18, 2023.
Royal Australian Navy personnel work with civilian emergency services to evacuate members of the public in Cairns, Australia, Dec. 18, 2023.

The military has begun to evacuate a remote Indigenous community cut off by record-breaking floods in northern Australia.

A previous attempt to reach Wujal Wujal, north of Brisbane, was abandoned because of the storms.

Torrential rain has brought life-threatening flash flooding to parts of north Queensland in the aftermath of ex-Tropical Cyclone Jasper.

Residents have sought shelter on rooftops and up trees. There are no reports, so far, of deaths or serious injuries.

In a swollen river in north Queensland, Gavin Dear, a musician, sees a man clinging to a tree. In a video posted on social media, he is shown moving his boat closer to the stranded man.

“Can you wave? Yeah, we’ll just motor in, mate, and grab that tree. Ok, mate, we’ve got you. Can you get down?” he asked.

Dear told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the rescued man is lucky to be alive.

“There was probably 500-600 meters wide water. Big, fast-flowing brown water," Dear said. "We got to his tree, yeah, this fellow was in uncontrollable shakes and he was all cramped up, too, because he’d been hanging on there. A shipping container had been washing past and nearly quashed him up there.”

The entire town of Wujal Wujal, a remote Aboriginal community 2,000 kms (1,243 miles) north of Brisbane, is being evacuated because of the floods.

It’s been cut off for days.

Supplies of food and water for its population of about 300 people are running low. Military helicopters have joined the effort to take them to safety at Cooktown, 80 kms (50 miles) away.

Record-breaking rain is starting to ease in northeastern Australia. It’s estimated that 1.5 m of rain has fallen in the past five days. Hundreds of people have been rescued. Bridges, roads, homes and crops have been damaged.

The floodwaters are beginning to subside, but Murray Watt, Australia’s Minister for Emergency Services and Agriculture, told local media that the recovery will take time.

“Obviously, there is still a major job ahead in terms of evacuations from Wujal and there is still certainly some response efforts to be made," Watt said. "But today we will also be able to begin the recovery task, which we know is going to be a very long one.”

Warren Entsch, a federal lawmaker who represents flood-affected parts of north Queensland, has criticized the Bureau of Meteorology, Australia’s national weather agency.

Entsch told local media the region wasn't properly warned ahead of record rainfall. However, a government spokesperson said that weather forecasting is not an “exact science.”

Elsewhere, heatwave warnings are current for parts of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales, where severe bushfires are also burning.

The increasing incidence of natural disasters in Australia has raised concerns among scientists, environmentalists and politicians about the impacts of climate change.