PM to tour stricken flood zone

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard is expected to visit flood-ravaged Central Queensland in the coming days after Premier Anna Bligh declared the state was facing its “toughest hour”.

Ms Bligh toured Emerald yesterday amid warnings 80 per cent of the town would be inundated by floodwater.

She estimated the damage bill for roads alone would total at least $1.5 billion and predicted billions of dollars would be needed for the recovery process.

Emerald Mayor Peter Maguire told the Daily Mercury that Emerald’s damage bill was likely to be greater than the $50 million trail of destruction left behind by the January 2008 floods.

Cr Maguire said a SMS alert had been sent to residents in Emerald’s northern region yesterday, advising them that floodwaters were expected to rise by 6am today.

The Vince Lester Bridge, which runs through the middle of Emerald, has been closed since 5pm Wednesday.

Floodwaters at the bridge peaked at 16.2 metres yesterday but were expected to drop to 16 metres about midnight.

Meanwhile, people have been advised not to visit Rockhampton and the Capricorn Coast, amid predictions that the airport and Bruce Highway will be closed for 10 days from tomorrow.

“The airport is likely to be closed on Saturday and over the weekend, or early next week, the Bruce Highway will be cut to the west and the south,” Rockhampton Mayor Brad Carter said.

Cr Carter said the main river gauge had a reading of 8.1 metres yesterday, but floodwaters were still rising and were likely to exceed the 9.3-metre peak recorded during the town’s devastating 1991 floods.

“We’re expected to have water reach nine metres in the Fitzroy River on Sunday and a peak of 9.4 metres on Tuesday,” he said.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s office said Ms Gillard was likely to visit flood affected areas in the coming days, however, conditions would dictate where and when this would happen.

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