A road split in half on the Palmerston Highway, far north Queensland.
Residents in far north Queensland are bracing for more rain and further significant flooding. Image by HANDOUT/ERGON ENERGY
  • windstorms

Road repairs on skids as rain, possible cyclone loom

Laine Clark January 11, 2024

Heavy rain has sparked fears roads hit by giant landslides might collapse as far north Queensland braces for more wild weather.

Work has begun to clear debris strewn across the Douglas Shire’s Cape Tribulation Road network north of Cairns, including a giant 56m landslide.

The area was one of the worst hit after ex-Tropical Cyclone Jasper caused record flooding.

But roadworks look set to be jeopardised by heavy rain with a tropical low – and possibly another cyclone – set to form in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Flood-damaged road in Cairns.
 Floods after Cyclone Jasper have damaged infrastructure in far north Queensland. Image by Nuno Avendano/AAP PHOTOS 

“We have extensive landslides. We need extra crews to assist,” Douglas Shire Mayor Michael Kerr told AAP.

“This work needs to be done quite quickly because there is a lot of weight on the roads.

“The longer it is there, the more chance there is of collapse.”

Nearby Port Douglas received 60mm overnight with more downpours expected for days, sparking fears road clearings may need to be reassessed.

A tropical low is set to form by Friday and is a slight chance of becoming a tropical cyclone over the weekend, barely a month after Jasper wreaked havoc in the region.

“The rain that is currently happening and forecast is concerning,” Mr Kerr said.

“If we get over 100mm of rain, we are going to reassess a lot of work we are doing clearing the roads.

“We are trying to get it done as quickly as possible but we will have to assess whether it is still safe for machinery to be on it – it (more rain) could jeopardise the road work.”

Australian Defence Force support has been pledged for the recovery effort.

Another shot in the arm has been a $24 million recovery package to support tourism, clean-up efforts and specialised recovery staff in the far north.

“This will help businesses who have been isolated for long periods of time, they have been struggling to keep staff,” Mr Kerr said.

“If they lose staff then they will well and truly be stranded when tourism does reopen so that extra funding is so important.”

Tourism makes up about 80 per cent of the Douglas Shire economy, injecting more than $600 million every year and creating 2600 jobs.

Steven Miles and Anthony Albanese
 Steven Miles and Anthony Albanese announced a million recovery package for far north Queensland. Image by Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS 

“We haven’t even recovered from COVID so we are only just starting to see the tourists come back again,” Mr Kerr said.

“For this flooding damage to happen is another kick in the guts for these businesses.”

The threat of heavy rain along with a king tide at nearby Cairns has sparked fears of more flooding just weeks after houses were destroyed by Jasper’s aftermath.

“Our biggest fear is complacency. I think we still have that a lot,” Cairns Mayor Terry James said.

“It (cyclone season) doesn’t finish until April 30 – you need to be prepared.”

Mr James said it would take up to two years to repair the local damage caused by recent flooding.

“The roads are still damaged so that (more flooding) could exacerbate that damage,” he said.

A major recovery effort is also under way in Queensland’s southeast after seven people died in storm-related incidents.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick estimated the state’s repair bill would be $2 billion but expected that figure to rise.