More than 400 evacuated as Army braces for more rescues

LOCALS are taking to social media to beg for their lives as rescuers race against the clock to save thousands of people from rising floodwaters in north Queensland.

Rescue teams from police, SES and the Australian Army worked through the night to grab dozens of Townsville families perched on top of their kitchen benches, cars and even rooftops.

Other residents on higher ground are nervously waiting inside their homes to see just how far flood waters will rise after unprecedented releases from the city's swollen dam.

MORE than 400 people were rescued from the Townsville suburb of Idalia overnight as Army personnel brace for further evacuations today.

Two police officers were among those who had to be rescued overnight, as authorities received hundreds of calls for help after a wall of water rushed through the already flood-stricken Townsville when the Ross River Dam gates automatically tripped open after days of torrential rain.

Residents of at least 20 suburbs have been told to evacuate as up to 20,000 homes are feared to be at risk in what is Townsville's worst flood on record.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services told The Courier-Mail a massive 850 SES calls were made in the 24 hours leading up to 5am today.

More than 500 people have been relocated from Townsville and surrounding areas.

Military troops in inflatable Zodiac boats are rescuing hundreds of people trapped in homes hit by the unprecedented flash flood in a huge rescue operation unfolding in the city.

Two police and two ambulance officers caught in the flooding had to be plucked to safety - one officer having to climb a tree - after they were stranded in the flood disaster overnight while themselves trying to help others.

Locals also reported several sightings of large crocodiles as a raging torrent of floodwater rips through the heart of the city.

Tina Stephensen cries as she is rescued by a swiftwater Rescue Crew in Fraire St, Hermit Park. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Tina Stephensen cries as she is rescued by a swiftwater Rescue Crew in Fraire St, Hermit Park. Picture: Zak Simmonds

Residents had to be rescued from their rooftops last night as the dam's waters swept through.

While authorities have this morning been unable to confirm the number of rescues performed overnight, it's understood there were at least two swiftwater rescues, including the one involving police officers.

Swiftwater rescue crews were operating through the night as water levels continued to rise.

Queensland police said they were responding to multiple jobs.

"There are hundreds and hundreds of calls for assistance," a spokeswoman said.

"Even though there have been plenty of warnings, the floodwaters have still taken many by surprise.

"We have dozens of code-two jobs, our most serious jobs, at the moment."

DOWNLOAD MAP OF DANGER ZONES (PDF 900KB)

It was feared flash flooding from the release would more than double the height of record-high flood levels already raging through the heart of the city with up to 2000 cubic metres of water per second expected to be unleashed from the dam.

All flights in and out of Townsville were last night cancelled as authorities warned worst-case scenario modelling showed as many as 20,000 properties could be inundated - about one-quarter of the city's homes.

Police Acting Chief Superintendent Steve Munro said: "We are in uncharted territory. There's more water coming, make steps to keep yourself safe. We're not through this yet.''

Emergency texts flashed on phones: "Emergency. Emergency. Move away from Ross River now. Flash flooding from Dam."

Map showing the potentially affected areas from the dam spillway opening
Map showing the potentially affected areas from the dam spillway opening

One Twitter alert yesterday urged residents to scramble to higher ground.

"Everyone should ensure they move away from riverbanks and get to higher ground," the alert said. "The dam spillway gates may open to their full setting between the hours 8.30pm and 6am.

"Residents still in their homes in these suburbs should move to the highest ground in their dwelling."

It comes on top of the catastrophic flooding and extreme rainfall swamping the disaster-declared city in an unprecedented "one-in-100-year" event.

Suburbs in direct danger included Rosslea, Hermit Park, Railway Estate, Townsville City, Oonoonba, Idalia, Cluden, West End, Rowes Bay, Garbutt, Aitkenvale, Cranbrook, Currajong, Mysterton, Pimlico, Mundingburra, Douglas, Annandale, Kirwan and Thuringowa Central and South Townsville areas.

Flood evacuee Jade Bretzke, whose Hermit Park home is under water, said the forecasts and warning were "ominous" and "phenomenal".

In hardest-hit Rosslea, Megan Simmonds, 26, has been helping neighbours carry out their belongings from devastated homes where many are already under 2m of water.

She said they all now face the "great uncertainty of what is to come".

About 10,000 people have already lost power since Friday - and more power outages due to public safety concerns are likely.

Meanwhile, tornadoes and waterspouts were spotted off Townsville yesterday in the intensifying monsoon dumping a phenomenal 100mm an hour - on top of a record one-metre total rainfall - over the disaster zone in North Queensland.

Tina Stephensen cries as she is rescued by a swiftwater Rescue Crew in Fraire St, Hermit Park. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Tina Stephensen cries as she is rescued by a swiftwater Rescue Crew in Fraire St, Hermit Park. Picture: Zak Simmonds

 

The Bureau of Meteorology tweeted radar vision of intense storm cell activity near Ayr, south of Townsville yesterday.

"Atmospheric conditions are ripe for tornadoes and waterspouts around Townsville, Ayr, Bowen,'' it said. "On Doppler radar they show up as red-blue 'couplets' like these near Alva Beach. Damaging to destructive winds are possible in these intense storm cells.''

In 2012, a tornado packing 110km/h winds tore apart about 60 homes and injured 13 people in a narrow path of destruction in Townsville.

BoM Meteorologist Adam Blazak said waterspouts or tornadoes develop in severe thunderstorms of the monsoonal trough.

"A waterspout is nothing to be sneezed at, it can tear a house apart," he said.

Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill praised the plucky spirit of locals and urged the 185,000-strong community to "hang tough".

"We still don't know how much more rain will fall in the catchment,'' she said.

"It is quite dangerous."


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