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Troops lend muscle to Queensland's flood recovery

Thursday January 31, 2013 - 12:04 EDT

Queensland's second highest ranking police officer has been appointed to lead the flood reconstruction effort around Bundaberg.

Deputy Commissioner Brett Pointing will head the state's disaster authority, after floods swept across the east coast, leaving a trail of destruction and a damage bill of nearly $200 million.

Six people are known to have died in the state's flood disaster, after the bodies of two farm contractors were discovered in the Lockyer Valley yesterday.

Deputy Commissioner Pointing will be based in the worst-hit town of Bundaberg, where the Army has arrived to tackle the massive task of cleaning up.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard will also visit flooded areas of Bundaberg later today and is expected to announce disaster funding.

Deputy Commissioner Pointing says the Burnett region faces some great challenges.

"I know that the communities of Bundaberg and the Burnett generally are suffering greatly. We're very, very conscious of the fact that people are out of their homes at evacuation centres and staying with family and friends," he said.

"The most important thing for me at this point in time is to get situational awareness and very much get some rapid assessment of the work that needs to be done over the next 12 months to examine the impact on community in terms of housing, to examine the impact on the economy."

Premier Campbell Newman says he may appoint at least one more person to help lead the reconstruction effort in other parts of the state.

While some rivers are yet to peak, a massive clean-up is underway. There are still communities short of food, power and water.

In Bundaberg, the record flood is receding, although water continues to flow through large parts of the city.

An exclusion zone has been set up in North Bundaberg, where soldiers are going house-to-house making sure the area is safe.

Many of the 7,000 residents who have been forced out of their homes will not be allowed to go back until they are checked and declared safe.

Mark Jackson from the district disaster group says people need to stay outside the exclusion area.

"We've got police in the area to enforce that. We just don't know what the situation is there but we do know there's quite extensive damage in the area," he said.

"It's not a safe place to be so we're seeking peoples' cooperation not to be in that area."

Major Pat O'Neil says 180 soldiers are in Bundaberg while a smaller team was sent to Gayndah. A third group was dropped off at Burrum Heads on the Fraser Coast.

"They've already been out there with chainsaws. They're staying at the local caravan park," he said.

"So they've been welcomed by the community and we're already working with the community and the council and other services and everybody's really pleased to be working together and its going well."

Further north, the residents of Condamine have been anxiously watching floodwaters rise.

The town is expected to be isolated for a week when the Condamine River rises to 10.3 metres. A peak of around 12 metres is expected.

The Moonie Highway was temporarily reopened yesterday to allow 160 semi trailers loaded with supplies into the region.

Many residents in the Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane, are still isolated after floodwaters caused widespread damage in the area.

Vanessa Redinger from the Mount Sylvia Junction View coordination committee says farming land, roads, powerlines and phone infrastructure has been washed away.

"Our family are fifth-generation farmers and this would have to be the worst disaster that's been seen [in] lifetimes of our family," she said.

"Certainly by far the damage here done is worse than ... 2011, worse than '74 and '59.

"The creeks there have just taken their own new path. We've lost 30 to 40 acres of cultivation."

Rockhampton yet to peak

Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow says a flooded Fitzroy River is expected to peak in the city tomorrow, but its height is forecast to be much lower than in 2011.

She says the river is still likely to peak at 8.5m, but will reach that height late on Friday.

"We are thinking about 650 properties we will have 50 centimetres of water under the house or more," she said.

In Brisbane, the water crisis has been averted with restrictions set to be lifted across the city at midnight tonight.

Lord Mayor Graham Quirk says the Mount Crosby Water Treatment Plant is back operating at almost full capacity, with 12 hours supply in the reservoirs.

He says it is a different story to yesterday when some suburbs faced the prospect of running out.

"We will be keeping restrictions in place until midnight tonight. And that's simply a precautionary measure because should one of those plants go down with the murky water then we would be back to where we were - so we think the water quality will continue to improve," he said.

The Insurance Council of Australia says almost 22,000 claims have been lodged from flood-affected parts of Queensland.

The council says current estimates put the damage bill at $187 million, but that is expected to rise in coming weeks as the floodwaters continue to recede.


© ABC 2013

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