Fuel delivered to Wangetti Beach
Towns in north Queensland have been cut off by flooding in the wake of ex-tropical cyclone Jasper. Image by Nuno Avendano/AAP PHOTOS
  • disaster and accident

Rescue for stricken town as high cost of cyclone mounts

December 19, 2023

The evacuation of a community escaping floodwaters in far north Queensland continues as authorities switch from response to recovery after days of record rainfall and damaging winds.

Some areas of far north Queensland have had 2000 millimetres of rain during the past seven days as ex-tropical cyclone Jasper left residents stranded. 

Cooktown, north of Cairns, is taking residents from the nearby Aboriginal community of Wujal Wujal despite being low on supplies.

Cyclone Jasper
 Some communities in north Queensland can be accessed only by air after roads were washed away. Image by Nuno Avendano/AAP PHOTOS 

The Australian Defence Force has sent two Chinook helicopters from Townsville to help  evacuate stranded residents, some of whom were stuck on rooftops before getting to higher ground on Monday.

It is hoped 120 people can be evacuated on Tuesday with operations expected to continue into Wednesday if necessary, Deputy Commissioner Shane Chelepy said.

Early damage assessments indicate one home in Wujal Wujal has been destroyed, 15 have severe damage and 50 are moderately damaged, Queensland Premier Steven Miles said on Tuesday.

Authorities have concerns for an 85-year-old man missing from Degarra since Monday and extra police have joined a search.

The federal government has triggered financial support payments for affected communities from Wednesday. 

People who live in Cairns, the Cassowary Coast, Cook, Douglas, Hope Vale, Mareeba, the Tablelands, Wujal Wujal and Yarraabah local government areas can apply for a one-off payment of $1000 per eligible adult and $400 per eligible child who have suffered a significant loss as a result of the floods.

A Disaster Recovery Allowance was available for 13 weeks of federal income support to help eligible employees or sole traders who experience a loss of income as a result of a major disaster, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said.

“What we’re doing is working as close as we as we can with the Miles government, with local government and all of the authorities to make sure that we make this recovery as smooth as possible,” he said. 

Flood damage in Cairns
 The clean-up operation has begun at Cairns as flooding eases. Image by Nuno Avendano/AAP PHOTOS 

Mr Albanese and Mr Miles will travel to Cairns on Thursday. 

Decreasing rain is helping to ease flooding across north tropical coast communities, while warnings have been finalised for the Barron River which had affected services at Cairns Airport, which was set to reopen on Tuesday.

No further rainfall of significance is forecast across the catchment over the next few days, but bureau forecaster Laura Boekel said people should monitor flood and river warnings. 

Several thousand homes are still without power as energy crews from Ergon start air patrols  to assess grid damage.

Flooding around Cairns
 Flooding is slowly receding around Cairns after the huge amounts of rain. Image by HANDOUT/QUEENSLAND POLICE SERVICE 

Ergon said more than 2000 homes in Cairns and on the Cassowary coast had power restored but floodwaters would need to recede further before crews could do a thorough damage assessment and tackle extensive repairs.

The Cooktown region’s mayor said he would be scrambling to boost dwindling food and supplies before the arrival of 300 evacuees from Wujal Wujal.

Peter Scott said the town had enough food for another three days and water restrictions remained in place because of flooding at a water treatment plant.  

Mr Scott insisted the town could still host the evacuees, with the Cooktown PCYC equipped to accommodate up to 1000 people.

“Wujal Wujal have copped it very badly,” he said.

Cyclone Jasper
 Volunteers in parts of north Queensland are scrambling to boost dwindling food and supplies. Image by Nuno Avendano/AAP PHOTOS 

“Some of those poor people have been on the roof of their houses for two or three nights with no power, no communication, no food probably.”

Flood-affected residents have been warned about diseases from polluted water.

There was a greater risk for life-threatening infectious diseases such as Melioidosis when there were floods, Tropical Public Health Services director Dr Richard Gair said.

“This organism usually lives deep in the soil but comes to the surface when the soil is disturbed by heavy rainfall and flooding,” he said.