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Small window of opportunity to airlift dozens stranded at north Queensland school camp

Sunday March 11, 2018 - 00:17 EDT
ABC licensed image
Floodwaters inundate houses in Ingham on Saturday morning. - ABC licensed

Dozens of students and staff trapped by floodwaters at a camp in north Queensland could be airlifted to safety before further rainfall hits the area.

The Department of Education said in a statement plans were in place to near Tully on Sunday morning.

Current weather advice indicated if the airlift does not happen today, there may not be another opportunity to evacuate the group until later next week.

Three students suffering gastro have already been airlifted to Cairns and a child with a pre-existing medical condition was also evacuated.

"The teaching staff from The Willows State School have done an outstanding job of managing the situation at the camp and supporting children throughout the week," the statement said.

"We are looking forward to helping our staff and students get back to their own homes and families safely and as soon as possible."



Norman Liddle, a pilot based in Tully, said he and a police officer flew supplies to the students on Friday afternoon.

"I got the call about 7:30am — we didn't actually get to do the job until about 4:00pm once we had a break in the weather," Mr Liddle said.

"Then we just did what we could and helped everyone out best we could — it was all in boxes, some groceries, fruit and vegetables — there was plenty of chips and lollies there too I saw.

"I didn't get to see the kids but they all seemed happy and smiling at the gate — they all seemed well."

Flood levels easing in Ingham

Major flood levels are slowly easing across the north Queensland town of Ingham where more than 200 homes have been inundated, as a trough and a south-easterly wind surge continue to travel up the state, bringing heavy rainfall to the far north.

Cairns recorded 159 millimetres in the 24 hours until 5:00am on Saturday, while Innisfail picked up 65mm.

Floodwaters in Ingham reached a peak of 14.7 metres on Friday night — a level similar to that of the 2009 floods — and rising waters in Innisfail have also put homes under threat.



Light showers are expected to fall in Ingham during Saturday, but the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said the Herbert River in Ingham was likely to fall during the day below the major flood levels.

Major flood warnings remain for that river system, along with the Mulgrave and Russell rivers, Innisfail's Johnstone River catchment and the Tully and Murray rivers.

BOM forecaster Jim Richardson said Ingham had recorded only 6mm of rain in the 24 hours to 5:00am on Saturday.



"Thankfully nothing as strong as we've seen over the past little while," Mr Richardson said.

"We do have a lot of major floods warnings out at the moment, the focus is shifting north and the system is weakening a little bit, but we could still see some flooding up north with that heavier stuff, so just keep an eye out for that for the warnings," he said.

Emergency crews received 100 requests for help early on Saturday morning, which included calls from Ingham, Halifax, Innisfail and Cairns.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) officers will inspect properties across the district, .

Two groups of specially trained swiftwater rescue teams remained on standby in Ingham.



Financial aid, help on the way

Financial assistance and support services have been made available to residents directly affected by flooding.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the Hinchinbrook region was the worst affected by the floodwaters, which inundated properties and businesses.

She said government staff had been deployed to Townsville to lead community recovery efforts, with more expected to join them over the coming days.

"Once the floodwaters recede in the worst-hit areas and it is safe to do so, we will send in our dedicated recovery workers to help affected individuals and families access financial assistance and support services that they will need to assist with their recovery," Ms Palaszczuk said.

'Just got out in time'

Meanwhile, Innisfail resident Markeeta Harwood said her family "just got out in time".

She said they had also been affected by Cyclone Yasi in 2011, and the family now wanted to relocate.

"It [Cyclone Yasi] was nerve-wracking and scary, but we lost 90 per cent of our gear in Yasi, and now we might have lost more gear with this [Innisfail] flood. But we'll muddle through, we always do, we'll get there," she said.

Ms Harwood said the water rose very quickly.

"I looked at 10 o'clock and it was just at my neighbour's fence, and at 11 o'clock it was at our fence, at our gate," she said.

"By twenty-past we were out, reversing out and it was three-quarters the way up the wheels on the Rodeo, our four-wheel drive.

"Myself and my hubby haven't been asleep at all — it's been a very long day and night and it's going to be even longer today."

She said they hoped to go home soon and see what the damage was to their home.

"We lifted up all our gear the best we could," she said.

"A young gentleman upstairs, the water had come in through his windows and he was sitting on the table."



Innisfail resident Sharnie Morrissy said "we were all good until probably midnight".

"Then these roads back behind us broke, the water's come over that and then it was just a river, it just came pouring in," Ms Morrissy said.

"We were frantic to try and get cars out, and we've lost the whole section of the house.

"The bottom level of the house is just completely destroyed — we've not long finished it.

"Now we've got two fridges, TV cabinets, everything floating towards the roof of the whole house."



Ivonne Altmann said her Innisfail house had escaped much of the flooding, but the sewage in her house was backed up.

"My front yard — it's a big swimming pool," Ms Altmann said.

"At 10:30pm my neighbour was trying to wake us up and she said 'you have to look out the yard, there's water everywhere'.



"I was shocked because the pressure of the water coming from the river was that strong — I've been here for eight years and I've never seen it like this before."



Floodwaters 'some of the worst' seen



Mr Liddle also said the floodwaters in the north were some of the worst he had seen.

"Just looking at the water that's laying around, it's a big flood this year," he said.

"The worst part about it is it's prolonged — the rain stays here for so long, it's not subsiding.

"There'd be lots of damage done and crops will be set back and that so there's a lot of work to do still yet after this does subside."

Meanwhile, Ingham resident Stephen Munro was wading waist-deep through floodwaters on Townsville Road on Saturday morning when he noticed a juvenile crocodile near him in the water.

"There's a f***ing crocodile — I was only five metres away from it," he said.

"The only reason I realised was because it dropped out of the water.

"I thought it was something floating, a little bit of timber or something, but then it went 'shoop' [under the water] — timber don't drop."



Once out of the croc's way and on higher ground at a nearby motel, Mr Munro said he might attempt to cross the inundated roads again later to get home, if SES crews did not help take him across.

"It was only a little baby [crocodile] … I'm too big for it," he said.

"I'm trying to get home and no-one wants to come and get me."


- ABC

© ABC 2018

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