BRISBANE, Australia – Flooded communities across eastern Australia could be under water for more than a week, with the cleanup bill expected to hit billions of dollars, a state official said Thursday.
Days of torrential downpours have left parts of central and southern Queensland state inundated, flooding thousands of homes and businesses, cutting off roads and forcing the entire populations of two towns to evacuate.
The rain eased Thursday, but river levels continued to rise in many locations as high waters made their way toward the sea. Communities already swamped could remain under water for up to 10 days, Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh warned Thursday.
"It's an enormous disaster," she told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "The recovery ... is going to require literally billions of dollars from federal, state and local governments (and) insurance companies."
Floodwaters inundated 120 homes in the southeast Queensland town of Bundaberg, forcing the evacuation of about 400 people overnight, Deputy Mayor Tony Ricciardi said. Police had to rescue two people from the roof of their flooded home.
"This is a one-in-100-year event," Ricciardi said. "We won't see this again in our lifetime. Well, I hope."
Officials were evacuating all 100 residents of the town of Condamine by helicopter on Thursday, county Mayor Ray Brown said. A river running through Condamine was still rising and threatening to put the whole town under water, he said.
In the town of Theodore, the military evacuated all 300 residents by helicopter Wednesday.
Queensland launched a disaster relief fund for flood victims with 1 million Australian dollars ($1 million) in state money. Prime Minister Julia Gillard pledged to match that amount with federal funds.