NORTH Queensland has been disaster declared with towns isolated, scores of homes inundated, schools and businesses shut, residents evacuated and highways cut in a record-busting deluge over one-third of the state.
Disaster officials fear a "dangerous situation'' unfolding as forecasters predict two tropical cyclones may form up in the Gulf and the Coral Sea next week and pose a dire threat to swamped coastal communities.
Almost 200,000 residents and visitors along a 400km stretch of the coast from Ingham to Cooktown have been completely cut off to the south by flooding on the Bruce Highway.
Some inland towns out west face weeks of isolation.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk last night announced the disaster declarations and put emergency response crews on notice ahead of the "worsening weather".
"What we've seen is 200mm to 300mm of rainfall around the Ingham, Innisfail and Halifax area in the last 24 hours," she said, after convening a meeting with the State Disaster Management Committee. "We do expect more houses to feel the effects of inundation.
"We have areas out west that are isolated as well.
"We have some weather worsening up in the Gulf from this weekend onwards and the Bureau (of Meteorology) is keeping an eye on the Coral Sea for later next week.
"In effect, about a third of our council areas in our state have been impacted."
Emergency services said floodwater levels in north Queensland had reached the levels of the 2009 flood.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services commissioner Katarina Carroll said there had been 17 attempted rescues of people trapped in cars and homes including one man who was plucked to safety by a hero tradie.
She said about 220 homes had been flooded in the state's far north.
"Probably around 10 houses at this stage in Innisfail (were inundated). Crews on the ground in Ingham are getting an indication that some 40 houses have been inundated north of Ingham, some 130 south of Ingham and some 40 in Halifax.
"We've had some 108 SES jobs in the past 24 hours. A lot of that is to do with tarping and sandbagging."
She said there had been seven rescue attempts in the far north region and 10 in the northern region. "Four of those were due to silly behaviour."
Ingham Mayor Ramon Jayo said most of the 11,000 residents in Hinchinbrook Shire were unfazed by the latest flood.
"They know the rules, everyone is prepared with food, supplies and medicine,'' he said. "We've all just got to sit tight and wait. We don't need to call in the military just yet, that's our last resort.''
Ingham local Chris Castles, who owns a helicopter, did a flyover of the township split in half by floodwaters.
"It's as big as 2009 no doubt about that, Halifax is completely cut-off, so too all the houses along the riverbank,'' he said
Fourteen state schools in the Ingham region and Tully were closed due to major widespread flooding.
Barron River Falls is in full flood in clouds at Kuranda, above Cairns, from a single trickle in December last year.
Tully and Babinda are again in a tight tussle for the title of Australia's wettest spot. And there is a potential cyclone developing later next week in the Coral Sea.
"There is a pretty good chance we will see a low develop next week," the Bureau of Meteorology's David Grant said. "Most of the heaviest rainfall has contracted northwards and is occurring closer to Cairns (however) we are going to see a continuation of shower activity around the Ingham area."
Widespread rainfall in excess of 100mm was recorded between Mossman and Ingham yesterday, with Kirrama Range receiving 409mm in the 24hr prior to late yesterday afternoon.
"Into next week there is still a high chance of shower activity in the tropical east coast, however most of the widespread, heavier falls will be closer to the Torres Strait Islands and the Gulf of Carpentaria," he said.
URGENT FLOODING INFORMATION, INNISFAIL 11.30pm Friday
Innisfail police are urging people in the Innisfail area that the local rivers are rising and homes may become inundated as waters continue to rise.
The current situation is that the North and South Johnstone Rivers are rising and it is believed this will continue this evening.
Currently, modelling suggests that low lying homes in the Innisfail township near the North Johnston River may be the subject of inundation.
Police are appealing to residence in these areas are advised that the levels are continuing to rise and they should take the following precautions.
• Protect your property if you are willing and able
• Consider the need to re-locate to higher ground if necessary
• Take any medications, documentation, pets and family members with you
• Advise family and friends if you are moving to higher ground and lock up your house
• Listen to instructions given by police and other emergency services
• NEVER drive in flooded waters
• If you need assistance and the matter is urgent or life threatening, ALWAYS call Triple Zero (000)
Police and local authorities are continuing to monitor the situation and officers are on the ground ready to respond.
'I WOULD'VE BEEN GONE IN ABOUT 30 SECONDS'
PALM Cove plumber Francis Heles says he expected to drown as he sat trapped in his car as it was swept from the Gilles Range Road and began filling with fast-moving floodwater.
Mr Heles, known to most of his clients as "Bob the Plumber", said that he would have had about 30 seconds to live if had not been for the swift actions of 27-year-old Cairns sparkie Sam Greenwood.
"I was heading down to the airport because I had to get to a funeral on the Gold Coast," Mr Heles said.
"I made it all the way down the Gilles and there were rocks falling down all around me and I remember thinking, this isn't good."
When he reached the bottom of the range, he came across a patch of flooded road.
"The water was only about a foot deep, but as I got there a massive surge of water came through and the car just started filling up really quickly," he said. "All of a sudden, the doors locked and the windows locked and I was trapped."
As floodwaters lifted his Toyota Rav 4 from the bitumen and he realised his attempts to kick out the car windows were in vain, Mr Heles said Mr Greenwood started wading out to the car.
"When he realised he couldn't break it (with his hands), he went back to the bank and got his axe and came back to me ... (but) in the space of about a minute while he was gone, the water came up another half a metre," he said.
"I had my head up against the ceiling ... another 30 seconds and I would have been holding my breath, I would have been gone.
"I don't normally drink strong drinks, but I had a bourbon and Coke at when I got up here to the hotel (at Herberton)."
- Sian Jeffries
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