FLooded and damaged roads in north Queensland
Residents in far north Queensland are still waiting to be rescued and thousands have no power. Image by Joshua Prieto/AAP PHOTOS
  • disaster and accident

Heroic flood rescues as town evacuation postponed

Laine Clark December 18, 2023

The evacuation of a flooded town has been postponed but wet weather has not stopped some heroic rescues in far north Queensland.

At one stage a local used a mustering helicopter to save people from a hotel rooftop after record flooding and rainfall hit the region in the wake of ex-tropical cyclone Jasper.

The entire town of Wujal Wujal north of Cairns – all 300 people – was at one stage set to be evacuated on Monday after some were trapped on roofs, including a seven-year-old at the local hospital.

However, Australian Defence Force helicopters will attempt to relocate the majority to Cooktown from early Tuesday after wet weather sabotaged their plans.

Authorities insisted everyone at Wujal Wujal was safe and on higher ground with no reports of serious injuries despite crocodile sightings and disease warnings on Monday.

A 71-year-old man died north of Cairns but it was from a medical episode and “not as a result of the event”, police said.

The Wujal Wujal evacuation might have to wait but there has been no shortage of bold rescues, with one local using a fishing boat to save eight people at the Aboriginal community on Monday.

Another used a mustering helicopter to save 15 people from a hotel rooftop near Cooktown.

Cyclone Jasper
 Cairns has copped widespread flooding from ex-tropical cyclone Jasper. Image by Nuno Avendano/AAP PHOTOS 

Five people – including two children – were rescued at Mount Molloy after spending the night on their roof.

“We have seen incredible acts of bravery … with families saved from rooftops and locals lending a hand to look after their neighbours,” Queensland Premier Steven Miles said.

“I want to thank our first responders for their incredible work but also those good Samaritans.”

The Australian Defence Force has sent about 150 personnel, equipment and four aircraft north to help, with communities isolated from Cooktown to Innisfail and more than 13,000 people without power.

There were about 300 rescues while another 200 self-evacuated north of Cairns overnight with assistance from the HMAS Cairns naval base.

More than 100 people remain in evacuation centres.

“We have heroes on the ground who have been out all night,” Mr Miles said.

Cyclone Jasper
 Premier Steven Miles says “heroes on the ground” had been rescuing people overnight. Image by Nuno Avendano/AAP PHOTOS 

“We deployed literally every boat we could get our hands on.”

The region has been inundated with showers from a trough associated with ex-tropical cyclone Jasper which is lingering on the Cape York peninsula’s west coast.

Dozens of December daily rainfall records have been broken in the far north including in Cairns, which received the most rain since 1964, and Cooktown, which had the heaviest falls since 1907.

There was also a record flood peak of about 15m at the Daintree River while the Barron River was at its highest since 1977.

Rain finally started to ease on Monday with a severe weather warning for the region cancelled.

Emergency services said late on Monday flooding in Bluewater Estate, Trinity Park, north of Cairns had passed.

Those in the area were told to be careful of dangers caused by the flooding such as downed power lines and damaged roads.

Cyclone Jasper
 The ADF has sent about 150 personnel, equipment and four aircraft to north Queensland to help. Image by Nuno Avendano/AAP PHOTOS 

Major flood warnings for the Murray and Tully Rivers remain.

All major far-north roads are closed, with some requiring months of repair work.

Cairns is cut off but the water treatment plant is operating again with the airport set to reopen on Tuesday in a major boost for rescue plans.

People have also been warned of crocodile sightings and the risk of disease.

Chief Health Officer John Gerrard said floodwaters brought the threat of bacterial diseases such as leptospirosis and melioidosis.

He asked anyone who had a fever or a wound that became sore after contact with floodwaters to see a doctor.

“Contaminated floodwater and mud can carry the risk of infection,” he said.