SES and Australian Defence Force deliver supplies.
SES and Australian Defence Force personnel have been delivering supplies to flood-affected Cooktown. Image by HANDOUT/QUEENSLAND POLICE SERVICE
  • disaster and accident

Hopes fade for missing man as flood bears down on town

December 23, 2023

A Cape York community is bracing for major flooding in the wake of ex-tropical cyclone Jasper, as the search for a missing elderly man is scaled down.

Police have grave concerns for the 85-year-old who has not been seen at Degarra, north of Cairns, since Sunday night.

His home was destroyed by floodwaters and his small boat was discovered in debris near the mouth of the Bloomfield River after an extensive search.

Damage to the Mulligan Highway near Cooktown, Qld
 Almost 40 Queensland communities were left isolated, with Kowanyama now bracing for major flooding. Image by HANDOUT/QUEENSLAND POLICE SERVICE 

Police have decided to scale back the search, but will act on any further information and will conduct regular patrols of the area.

“Despite tireless efforts by our crews, we have been unable to locate the man following this severe weather event,” Queensland Police Assistant Commissioner Brett Schafferius said.

“As debris is cleared and river levels subside, police will continue to monitor the area for any sign of him and we hold hope that we can provide answers for his loved ones.”

Nearby Wujal Wujal was one of the areas worst hit by record rainfall and flooding caused by ex-tropical cyclone Jasper’s arrival last week, with almost 300 people evacuated to Cooktown.

The Cape York community of Kowanyama is on high alert with major flooding due to hit nearby Magnificent Creek from Saturday.

Creek levels reached 3.7m on Friday.

Levels are set to rival the 2000 and 2009 major floods which reached 4.35m.

“It could push beyond the major flooding level there which is four metres over the weekend at some point,” a Bureau of Meteorology spokesperson told AAP.

On Saturday, the weather bureau issued warnings of thunderstorms for the Townsville and Toowoomba areas, with large amounts of rain.

Bushland Beach near Townsville recorded 85mm of rain in one hour on Saturday morning.

The severe thunderstorm warning was later lifted, but the bureau warned of instability in the atmosphere causing more storms.

Floodwaters and rain have eased in the Cairns region, allowing the massive recovery effort to begin.

More than 650km of state roads have reopened, thousands of tonnes of flood debris have been cleared and hundreds of inspections completed to ensure motorists’ safety.

Community recovery hubs have opened in Machans Beach, Manunda and Holloways Beach where residents can access emotional and well-being support. 

The hubs are open 9am to 4pm daily, but will be closed on Christmas  Day and Boxing Day. 

Rail recovery works are also under way.

Authorities hoped the North Coast line between Townsville and Cairns would reopen by Christmas for groceries and essential goods.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with Ergon Energy workers
 The Prime Minister met emergency and recovery workers during his tour of flood-hit Cairns. Image by Brian Cassey/AAP PHOTOS 

The Kuranda Range is expected to remain closed until mid-February with almost 100 sites identified for repairs.

The recovery has been boosted by a $64 million state-federal assistance package announced by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who visited the far north on Friday.

A flood appeal has also been launched with $1.5 million from the Queensland government.

Queensland Communities Minister Leeanne Enoch announced a $105,000 boost for emergency relief providers to help distribute aid.

The money will go towards food hampers, vouchers for essential items and transport, and contributions towards the payment of bills.

“It will be a long road to recovery for many,” she said.

“If you are struggling with unexpected financial pressures as a result of ex-tropical cyclone Jasper, please seek assistance.”

Operating hours for essential services will also be extended in the state.

Planning Minister Meaghan Scanlon said shops, warehouses and transport depots can operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week to deliver vital goods and services.

“These changes will help far north businesses and suppliers restock shelves and start operating again while the clean-up and recovery gets under way,” she said.