Emergency services battling logistical nightmare amid rising flood water in north-west Queensland

Emergency services battling logistical nightmare amid rising flood water in north-west Queensland

Supplies are being flown, trucked and shipped thousands of kilometres across Queensland to service remote communities in the Gulf of Carpentaria that have been isolated by floodwater for the last three months.

Key points:

  • A monsoon low is bringing ongoing heavy rain to an already saturated north-west Queensland
  • Minor evacuations have been carried out at isolated properties
  • Flooded airstrips, roads and surging rivers are putting pressure on resupply services

Operations have ramped up over the last week after a monsoon trough battered the already saturated region with record-breaking rainfall in the north west.

Century Mine, about 250 kilometres north of Mount Isa, recorded its highest daily rainfall ever of 315 millimetres for the 24 hours to this morning, beating the 2011 record of 207mm.

Queensland’s State Emergency Service (SES), local councils, the District Disaster Management Group (DDMG), and several truck, boat and aerial services have boosted efforts to restock communities with essential items like food and fuel.

But as water levels in the Nicholson, Gregory, and Norman rivers continue to rise, operations are becoming complicated.

Workers unload a plane on a tarmac

Supplies from Cairns are unloaded in Doomadgee.(Supplied)

Brett Hawkins runs the Hawkins Transport trucking company that has been servicing the flooded region.

He said the ongoing heavy rain meant airstrips were flooded while roads and rivers were getting harder to navigate.

“Our team is working big days in this relentless rain, covering incredible distances,” Mr Hawkins said.

Aerial view of flooded roads in the bush

Main roads at Gregory are flooded.(Supplied: Jack Clarke)

He said supplies were loaded onto trucks in Cairns, Townsville and Brisbane and were eventually driven to Croydon and then on to the Critters Camp rest stop, about 30km south of Normanton.

A forklift hired from Townsville was used to unload supplies onto boats on the Norman River at the nearby Glenore Weir.

In a day, Mr Hawkins said several boats would do about 30 return trips along the 19km stretch of river to Normanton where supplies were unloaded and distributed via air or boat to the neighbouring communities of Karumba, Burketown, Mornington Island and Doomadgee.

Supplies were also flown into Mornington Island and Doomadgee from Cairns.

A map showing Normanton and surrounds

Trucks with special permits travel along the Normanton-Croydon road from the coast to Critters Camp near Normanton.(Supplied: Mapcarta)

“It’s a huge operation and the rising floodwater and ongoing rain is just complicating things,” Mr Hawkins said.

The whole process of getting supplies out to communities took about a week, he said.

An aerial view of a flooded outback roadhouse

The Tirranna Roadhouse at Gregory is one of several isolated properties that have been evacuated.(Supplied: Jil Wilson)

Despite growing concern about river levels and some minor evacuations, Mr Hawkins said morale was high in communities.

“You do get your people who have never experienced a big wet season who do tend to panic, but most of the residents have been really patient with us, they’ve been really good,” he said.

“But it is worrying when you see stock supplies low in your town, when there’s no bread or milk at the store, and you’re just trying to sit tight and work together.

“We are trying to get these goods in as quickly as we can,” he said.

Focus on fuel

A shortage of aviation fuel in the region is also putting pressure on aerial food drops, especially to communities like Doomadgee that are further inland.

Several flooded airstrips across the region are closed, further limiting space for aircraft to land.

Queensland Police disaster support officer Senior Sergeant Jeffrey Magnus said the DDMG was focusing efforts on increasing fuel supply in the region.

“We’re looking at deploying JET A-1 fuel to the Burke and Wills Roadhouse area to service helicopters and Telstra towers, but Normanton still has an issue that we are working through,” he said.

Meanwhile, aerial resupply services will alternate between Doomadgee and Mornington Island.

“Stock may be under normal at the moment but resupply will continue and more goods are on the way,” Senior Sergeant Magnus said.

“We have about 3000 kilograms of foodstuffs coming into these communities this week.”

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