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Frustration grows as flooded communities clean up

By Annie Guest, Kathy McLeish, and Martin Cuddihy, Friday February 1, 2013 - 07:14 EDT

Frustration is rising in parts of flood-affected Queensland over a lack of assistance to deal with the aftermath of the deluge.

Many residents in Gayndah south-west of Bundaberg have been without power and waiting for help since Sunday.

Queensland's Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney has questioned building standards after newly repaired infrastructure was again washed away.

Expensive repairs to some roads and bridges damaged in 2011 had only just been finished when they were washed away by ex-cyclone Oswald.

That prompted Mr Seeney to declare the infrastructure must be rebuilt more strongly.

"To see a new bridge that was completed just before Christmas destroyed a couple of months later raises questions about the engineering standards, the design standards that we're using, and we have to address that," he said.

Mr Seeney's government is estimating the total damage could run into billions of dollars.

The federal and state governments have not managed to the settle the bill from the last disaster, so the question of who will pay for Oswald's damage is expected to be a drawn-out affair.

Touring Bundaberg, Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan again would not be drawn on whether there would be a taxpayer-funded levy, saying it was too early to discuss it.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the Federal Government was providing $1,000 disaster relief payments, along with primary producer and other assistance payments.

"On top of what will be hundreds of millions of dollars of expenditure into Queensland to help communities through these floods and tornadoes, we will make available $1 million for the Queensland flood appeal 2013," she said.

"We will ensure that people's donations to that flood appeal are tax deductible."

Many low-lying homes were uninsured because of hefty premiums. Some politicians have hit out at insurers over the issue, but the industry argues governments are responsible for poor planning and a lack of flood mitigation.

Gayndah resident Cynthia Berthelsen is worried about the welfare of her community.

"The police have been brilliant and the council workmen have been brilliant. But I haven't seen anything of the SES, fire brigade, army - not a soul," she said.

"They will be helping other people, but there's not enough to go around. They're elderly people. They haven't got the stamina to keep going day in and day out and there's not enough of them."

Ms Berthelsen said Mr Seeney promised assistance was coming when he visited the town.

Agricultural toll

Elsewhere, the floods have taken a toll on the rich agricultural region around Bundaberg.

Known as Queensland's salad bowl, everything from sugar cane to blueberries, citrus to macadamia nuts come out of the Wide Bay-Burnett region.

At an orchard just outside Gin Gin, Michael McMahon and his family grow lemons, mandarins, oranges and blueberries on the banks of the Burnett River.

Mr McMahon says the family business has been hit hard.

"The river does a horseshoe around our property so the rivers cut across the bulk of the farm and the bulk of the orchard," he said.

"It's been through our workshops, our offices, and my house and it's taken a few trees along the way as well.

"We haven't done a full assessment yet because it's still hard to get around the whole property, but we're sort of thinking that we'll, we might lose 10,000 trees or something to that effect."

About 15 sugarcane growers attended a hastily convened meeting with Canegrowers Australia chief executive Steve Greenwood, who says the state of the crops in the Maryborough and Childers area has shocked him.

"From what I've seen, there are a number of farms that have just totally been under and all the farms have gone under," he said.

"It's not a good look for some of these farmers and I think for some of them it's going to be a big struggle.

"I think unfortunately what we're going to see is some of these growers this will be the final straw... in 2011 they were hit with substantial flooding from all the wet weather we received then. Only two years later they've been hit again, and I think for a number of them this has been it."

North of Bundaberg, Rockhampton is preparing for the swollen Fitzroy River to peak on Saturday - at one metre lower than the 2011 flood that inundated 250 properties.

The death toll from ex-cyclone Oswald stands at six.


© ABC 2013

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