Floodwaters still rising as search for missing continues

Rising floodwaters continue to plague vast areas of eastern Australia as emergency workers battle to restore water and electricity in cyclone-hit areas, with the recovery efforts expected to last several months.

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Torrential rain has inundated large areas of Queensland and NSW, flooding homes and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. 

At least four people have died in separate incidents during the flooding, including two women, aged 36 and 64, who were swept away by floodwaters in northern NSW.

Watch: Floodwaters near Murwillumbah

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A 46-year-old man died in Murwillumbah from a heart attack when paramedics couldn’t reach him, and a 77-year-old man died in Eagleby in southeast Queensland.

A 45-year-old man was also discovered dead at a South Murwillumbah caravan park, although cause of death is yet to be confirmed.

There are still three men missing in Queensland.

Category four Cyclone Debbie smashed into Queensland on Tuesday between Bowen and Airlie, ripping up trees and causing widespread damage that is still being assessed.

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It was downgraded to a tropical low as it tracked southeast through the week, packing high winds and dumping huge volumes of rain all down the east coast to Sydney before blowing out over the Tasman Sea.

Even as skies began to clear, numerous towns were still on flood alert and some regions remain under water.

Record floodwaters for Rockhampton

Preparations are underway in Rockhampton for the biggest flood in more than 60 years, with army personnel being deployed to assist residents in the central Queensland city.

Forecasters expect a major flood peak to hit Rockhampton by the early hours of Thursday, reaching a level larger than the 2011 floods and potentially matching the February 1954 flood level of 9.4 metres.

“At that level, we would see around 5400 properties impacted including 3,000 residential, 1500 commercial and potentially another 900 properties,” Mayor Margaret Strelow said.

‘This is unprecedented’

Logan just south of Brisbane reflected the varied situation, with rising floods affecting some areas while other parts swung into clean-up mode as waters receded.

“This is unprecedented for us,” Logan city mayor Luke Smith said Sunday, warning that his city was still “in flux” with one key river remaining at high levels.

“The sky is the limit at this stage about what that means,” he added about the potential damage bill.

Fears for missing

The torrential rain also wreaked havoc south of the Queensland border in New South Wales, bringing severe floods to several towns.

Residents of Lismore and Tweed Heads near Murwillumbah were late Sunday cleared to return to their homes as waters subsided, but face a tough clean-up ahead.

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“It’s a disaster zone, it really is. Just mud and debris and concerned people everywhere – people cleaning out their businesses,” Naomi Tarrant of Lismore told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“Just so much loss. (It’s) so inconceivable what’s been lost downtown here.”

There were also fears for three other people missing in flood-hit areas in Queensland, with police searching for them Sunday.

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The military and emergency personnel were working to restore essential services such as water and electricity in towns that were in the direct path of Debbie in northern Queensland.

More than 500 homes were destroyed by the cyclone while almost 30,000 properties in that region remained without power, the state government said.

In cyclone-hit Proserpine, Colin Ridgway’s home of two decades was destroyed by Debbie.

“Oh, it breaks your heart, really. But not much you can do about it. It’s gone,” he told the ABC Saturday.

The Insurance Council of Australia has declared the Queensland and northern NSW regions disaster zones, estimating the damage bill could reach Aus$1 billion (US $770 million).

“The devastation across our state is huge, it is going to take months to repair,” Palaszczuk told reporters in Logan Sunday.