Floods Take Toll on Australia Economy

By AUBREY BELFORD

MELBOURNE, Australia — Churning floodwaters continued to rise across a vast swath of northeastern Australia on Tuesday as authorities worked to grapple with the multibillion-dollar economic toll from record inundations that have killed at least nine people.

Rain predicted for Wednesday is expected to worsen flooding that has struck a large area of the state of Queensland, said Jimmy Stuart, a senior hydrologist at the state branch of the Bureau of Meteorology. At least 200,000 people have been affected since heavy rains and floods in late December struck Queensland, where flooding is a seasonal regularity.

Queensland’s government is expected to hold an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday to come up with a strategy to deal with the cost of the disaster to the sprawling tropical state’s agricultural and mining sectors, said Kimberley Gardiner, a spokeswoman for the state premier, Anna Bligh. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has pledged assistance to flood victims.

“To be frank, there aren’t many industries that haven’t been affected in Queensland,” Ms. Bligh’s spokeswoman said. State authorities and private aircraft had been carrying out airdrops of feed to livestock stranded in flooded fields, she said.

Of particular concern is damage to fruit crops and cotton, which supply both the domestic and export market, and Queensland’s production of coking coal, which is used in the production of steel. Queensland produces just under half the world’s supply of the commodity.

Flooded mines and transport disruptions, which have left export stocks dwindling at the port of Gladstone, mean the coal industry could take months to recover, pushing up global prices, the spokeswoman said.

Helen Lau, an analyst for the Hong Kong offices of UOB-Kay Hian, said prices of Australian coking coal exports on Tuesday were at $230 a ton, and may peak at up to $270 a ton in the coming weeks. Australian exports of thermal coal, used for power plants, were at $130 a ton and could peak at $140 a ton, she said.

“The blue-sky scenario is prices and shipments will be affected for six weeks,” Ms. Lau said. “The worst case would be up to three months.”

The chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council, Michael Roche, said the floods had already cost the state’s coal industry about $1 billion in damages. About a dozen mines have been flooded while others are running at reduced capacity, he said.

“It’s going to be hard work to get that back into full production,” Mr. Roche told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “Mines have a lot of water to deal with and so we’ll be talking to the Queensland government about some practical measures to safely get rid of excess water.”

Howard Au, chairman of Hong Kong-based Petrocom Energy Limited, was optimistic that the impact on coal shipments from Australia would last for weeks, rather than months.

“If these floods happened in other developed countries, I would say it would take longer to return to normal production,” Mr. Au said.

Floodwaters have still not reached expected peaks in some areas, including the city of Rockhampton, where water more than 30 feet high in some places has cut off all but one road out of town and the military has been called in to help with supplies, Acting Queensland Police Assistant Commissioner Alistair Dawson said.

“This is a prolonged flooding event in Queensland and it is unlikely to recede in the very near future,” he said. “And we expect that once the peaks have been reached in and around a lot of these centers that the waters will remain high, that is about major flood levels, for some days after that event.”

Authorities have warned residents against venturing into the muddy waters that have swamped farms and 22 towns and cities across the sparsely populated tropical state, warning of both raging currents and dangerous animals like snakes and crocodiles.

Tony Higgins, the owner of the Fitzroy Hotel pub in Rockhampton, said he had stayed open serving beer and soft drinks despite floodwaters that had reached his front veranda and a lack of electricity since Sunday.

“I’ve had about four or five boats here most of the time,” Mr. Higgins said. “They come up to the veranda and off they get — police, journalists, that sort of thing.” Local residents were a “resilient mob” who had long anticipated the flood damage, he said.

Dozens of snakes had taken over the backyard beer garden of the hotel, Mr. Higgins said.

“I reckon the snakes are using it as a lap pool to get ready for the next stage of their journey,” he said. “You wouldn’t know what’s in the water, you really wouldn’t know. It’s a bad place to be.”/nytimes.com

One response to “Floods Take Toll on Australia Economy

  1. Pingback: Floods Take Toll on Australia Economy | Australia featured blogs

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