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Man rescued from floodwaters as north Queensland deluge causes flash flooding with more rain forecast

By Brittney Kleyn, Ashleigh Stevenson and staff, Tuesday January 28, 2020 - 17:27 EDT
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Townsville's Bundock Street was affected by flash flooding overnight. - ABC licensed

Emergency services have rescued a man stranded in floodwaters in the Burdekin in north Queensland, as torrential rain of more than half a metre falls in parts of the region, causing localised flooding and a rock slide in Townsville.



The 63-year-old man was trapped in his car at Giru, south of Townsville, when he called for help around 9:30am.

Police freed the man and towed the vehicle to a nearby roadhouse.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said the weather system could provide "the best rainfall" the area had seen in some time.

BOM said Rita Island near Ayr recorded 529 millimetres in the 24 hours since 9:00am on Monday.

Ayr itself received 421mm, while Nelly Bay on Magnetic Island near Townsville had 218mm.



Floodwaters have cut the Bruce Highway between Ayr and Home Hill and heavy overnight rain saw floodwaters creep up to the doorstep of Robert Hutton's Burdekin seafood store in Ayr.



"There's only one entrance into the front of the shop and I've never, in the five years we've been here, seen water come up to that first step," Mr Hutton said.

"Water was lapping at the front of the shop, so we're just out there and pretended we were fishing out the front."

Despite the heavy falls that are expected to continue today, BOM forecaster Harry Clark said it was unlikely the region would see flooding to the same levels as this time last year.

"The system isn't going to be around for long enough to produce the same levels of inundation and rainfall," Mr Clark said.

"The flip side of that is it's probably going to be some of the best rainfall they've had in quite a substantial period of time."

BOM forecaster Peter Markworth said there were two locations with moderate flood warnings at this stage — "the Upper Flinders around Richmond and one down south".

"Minor flood warnings expected to increase over coming days as we continue to get heavy rainfall and water goes downstream," Mr Markworth said.



He said the BOM did not expect the system to develop into a cyclone.

"We did see a brief move over water, which saw it strengthen slightly, but at this stage, we're expecting it to move back over land, which will inhibit any development," Mr Markworth said.

The BOM said the system was expected to head in the direction of Ingham and Cairns across the week.



Schools closed

The heavy falls also triggered a rockslide in Townsville's CBD overnight, blocking Sturt Street to morning traffic.

Localised flooding was also recorded in suburbs surrounding the city, with water washing through the bottom floor of a North Ward unit complex.

The SES received about 20 calls for help overnight, mainly for leaky roofs and requests for sandbags.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the start of the Townsville floods.

Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill said although the wet weather was not expected to cause the same devastation, she understood people would be feeling anxious about the rain.

"There are still of lot of people who aren't in their homes at the moment — there are people, particularly children, who are very mindful when they see heavy rain what it might mean.

"And obviously for us … things like landslips and we had a couple of homes that were inundated with water — these sorts of things happening around the community are obviously of concern."

Eight schools in north Queensland were closed for the first school day of the year, due to the severe weather.

Long trip for boarders

The rain posed a particular challenge for some rural students heading to boarding school.

Tom Doyle, 15, and his brother Harry, 13, went to great lengths to get from their parents' station in the Northern Territory to Mount Isa.



"It was too wet to drive out, so our next door neighbours had a plane so they flew over and picked me up and flew me into Camooweal and then we drove from Camooweal into town [in Mount Isa]," Tom said.

The brothers are expected to arrive at their school in Brisbane late on Tuesday night.

Tom said it was uplifting to see so much rain on the journey to Mount Isa.

"We haven't had much rain at our place but it's pretty cool to see how much rain everywhere else has had and just how wet it is about," he said.

"It's been two or three years since we've last seen good water at home and it's still dry at home at our place.

"It wouldn't have been terrible missing a few days of school but I'm in town now so can't really help that."



'It relieves a lot of stress'

The weather bureau is also monitoring a tropical low that has moved into the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The system is expected to provide falls to the eastern gulf coastline today — areas around Normanton and Kowanyama — then move to inland Australia and further south later in the week.



Normanton in the Gulf Country recorded 135mm of rain, with Winton in the central west recording 117mm.

A severe weather warning remains in place for areas including Mount Isa and Cloncurry.

In February's devastating floods last year, Geoff Cox at Warnabool Downs, 50km south of Winton, lost more than 250 head of cattle.

He said the 336mm of rainfall over the past three days had probably been too much rain, but was hopeful sunny days ahead would make it useful.



"You can't knock it back once you got it — it was pretty dry before," he said.

"You look out, we've got a big downs paddock in front of the house, it's like 50 Olympic swimming pools, you could go for a swim if you really needed to."



Carpentaria Mayor Jack Bawden said the shire was well prepared for severe weather with more heavy falls and damaging winds expected.

He said the rain had given some relief to producers.



"Naturally it relieves a lot of stress, people were starting to do our ring-arounds and see how people were faring with drought conditions because we were never drought-declared and things were starting to look pretty dire for quite a while now from before Christmas, so this is a really good thing," he said.

"The Gulf's the breeding ground for everywhere else in Queensland pretty much, so the more the pastoral industry gets the better off we are to a certain degree, of course we don't want too much but we're hard to please."



Rail lines closed

A Queensland Rail spokesperson said heavy rain had closed the rail line between Townsville and Mount Isa.

"Floodwaters will need to recede in areas until the full length of the line can be inspected," the spokesperson said.



"All freight trains along the line have now been stabled at dry locations."

The spokesperson said the Inlander passenger train was being held at Cloncurry.

Due to the road flooding in the Hughenden region, the Inlander train could not be replaced by a road coach.

Queensland Rail Travel customers should continue to check the status of their train service at queenslandrailtravel.com.au/serviceupdates or by calling 1800 803 009.

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- ABC

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