Australia floods: Queensland water levels still rising

The BBC's Steve Marshall says entire communities have been isolated

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Water levels are continuing to rise in some parts of the Australian state of Queensland as it battles its worst floods in decades.

Days of torrential rain have led rivers to burst their banks, swamping homes, closing roads and forcing residents to evacuate.

The rain has eased but flooding is getting worse in some places as water drains from higher ground.

In Emerald, a flood peak that could inundate 80% of the town is expected.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh warned that for some communities, the worst lay ahead.

"We've still got a number of communities that are facing the prospect of increased flooding over the next couple of days.

"So this disaster that's unfolding on an unprecedented scale is far from over."

Food fears

Ms Bligh visited Emerald, a town of about 11,000 residents in central Queensland.

Two residents walk through floods in Emerald on 30 December 2010 Floodwaters are still rising in the town of Emerald, with a peak expected early on Friday

About 700 residents have been evacuated from Emerald ahead of a predicted flood peak in the early hours of Friday on the Nogoa River that is expected to deluge the town.

"The worst case scenario is that 80% of the town will be inundated with water. That means a large number of people will be seeking evacuation," said Greg Goebel, director of the Australian Red Cross.

"So, you never know which way the water is going to go, but we've actually got a plan to make sure that people are properly housed and looked after during this time of, you know, real distress for many, many people."

Helicopters including Army Black Hawks have been ferrying residents to safer locations.

A pilot suffered minor injuries when a privately-owned helicopter flipped on to its side after taking off from the local race course.

"We had to be choppered in because all the roads to Emerald are cut off," Emerald resident Judi Liosatos told the BBC.

The crashed helicopter in Emerald (Image: Judi Liosatos) The pilot suffered minor injuries when his helicopter crashed in Emerald

"My husband was the last person to be flown in before it crashed... It took off again and lurched to one side and then kept falling in the pilot's side."

Further south, the town of Theodore has been completely evacuated and 100 residents are also being airlifted from Condamine ahead of another expected flood peak there.

The city of Bundaberg has been split in two by the swollen Burnett River. Four hundred people had been evacuated and 120 properties flooded, the deputy mayor said.

The river has now peaked but officials said the damage could not be assessed until the water levels went down.

Hundreds of residents across southern and central parts of the state are sheltering in evacuation centres, and officials have warned of severe damage to homes, crops and livestock.

"We've got a long way to go ahead of us and when these waters recede, that is when we're really going to know the size of the problem," Ms Bligh said.

Army helicopters are to be used to drop food supplies into isolated areas, and officials are also looking at ways of making sure larger communities remain stocked.

"We might have to look at some creative ways of doing that; we may have to look at moving product by sea, by plane," Bruce Grady of Emergency Management Queensland told the ABC.

"There's a whole range of planning that's currently going on."

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is expected to visit affected areas on Friday.

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