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Rescue teams evacuate flood-ravaged Australian town, race to airlift hundreds

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Cairns,  Australia—Rescue teams on Tuesday evacuated a flood-ravaged town in northeastern Australia, racing to airlift hundreds of people to safety before they run out of food and water.

Surging floodwaters have cut off the town of Wujal Wujal in Queensland state, engulfing houses, washing away roads and forcing some trapped residents to shelter on roofs.

The largely Aboriginal settlement, in one of Australia’s most disadvantaged regions, has borne the brunt of a major flooding disaster that unfolded in the wake of a tropical cyclone.

Queensland police disaster coordinator Shane Chelepy said rescue helicopters were preparing to evacuate the town of between 250 and 300 people.

“We know that we’ve only got about another day’s worth of water in that town,” he told national broadcaster ABC on Tuesday.

“We’ve had impacts to food, power, overall water, and that’s why we’re doing that evacuation today.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Tuesday that four military helicopters — including two heavy-lifting Chinooks — had been deployed to help the evacuation.

An earlier rescue attempt was abandoned on Monday afternoon because it was “too dangerous to get the choppers through”, the Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shire Council said.

Queensland has been battered by damaging winds and driving rain in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Jasper, which barrelled in off the Coral Sea late last week. 

Flood damage has been reported along an expanse of coastline that stretches about 400 kilometers across the state’s tropical northern region.

With floodwaters slowly receding following days of pummeling rain, disaster response crews are only now coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick has already predicted the floods would have a “billion-dollar impact” on the state.

Police said they were conducting welfare checks in more than 30 isolated communities, many of which were still without electricity and running water.

Amid the somber updates provided by authorities, there were also tales of daring flood rescues and even brief moments of levity.

Prime Minister Albanese praised a mystery pilot known to locals as “Magoo”, who used a small cattle-mustering helicopter to rescue 16 people from the Lions Den pub near Cooktown.

Albanese said Magoo used the two-seater helicopter to pluck people from the roof “one by one”, ferrying them to higher ground before zipping back to find others in distress.

“These are the stories of which every Australian can be proud,” he told reporters.

Queensland Premier Steven Miles took a moment to remind eager volunteers to put on shoes before striding out into waterlogged disaster zones.

“Today is not the day to wear thongs,” he said, using the Australian slang for flip-flop sandals.

Researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change amplifies the risk of natural disasters such as bushfires, floods and cyclones.  AFP


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