After the worst flooding in living memory dumped more than a metre of rain on the northern Australian city of Townsville in seven days and destroyed an estimated 20,000 homes, residents also had another threat to contend with: crocodiles swimming down suburban streets.
At least three crocodiles were sighted in the coastal city 2,000 kilometres north of Sydney over the weekend: a three-metre crocodile spotted by emergency services and a freshwater crocodile seen climbing a tree to escape floodwaters.
A wildlife expert said the crocodiles pose a threat to people moving around the flooded city by foot or in small boats. “Crocodiles are dangerous at any time but during floods they're even more dangerous because of the lack of food,” said Gaye Lovell of Northern Queensland Wildlife Care, a volunteer-based animal rescue group in Townsville.
“The water is too deep and running too fast for them to catch anything to eat and they exhaust themselves trying. You wouldn't want to be anywhere near one them. Keep as far a distance as possible.”
Police in Townsville also issued a warning on Monday after receiving several reports of children playing in flood waters on Palm Island, a nearby island home to a community of indigenous Australians.
“Playing in flood waters is extremely dangerous, not just because of the unpredictable nature of the water itself, but also because what may lie beneath the surface,” police said in a statement. “Crocodiles have been reported in flood waters in parts of Townsville, and there can also be snakes and other wildlife present.”
Mr Lovell said the floods while debilitating for humans they were murder for Australia's normally resilient wildlife. “It's been very very busy, the phone has been going constantly all day,” she said. “We got a few calls about kangaroos, the poor things are standing on the roads to get away from the water and then getting hit by cars. So it's a double whammy for them."
With a 95 percent probability that heavy rains and thunderstorms will continue to batter Townsville until the weekend, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology has warned of serious “risk to life and property” and advised residents in 22 of the city's suburbs to evacuate. “Everyone in the above suburbs should ensure they move away from riverbanks and get to higher ground,” the bureau warned.
Australia’s military has been deployed to tackle devastating "once-in-a-century" floods that have inundated homes, schools and airports.
The Australian Defence Forces delivered 70,000 sandbags, deployed amphibious cargo vehicles and helped pluck flashlight-wielding residents from their rooftops Monday.
Australia’s tropical north typically experiences heavy rains during the monsoon season, but the recent downpour has seen some areas get a year’s worth of rainfall in a week.
The authorities were forced to open floodgates of a major dam late on Sunday, unleashing what they called "dangerous and high velocity flows."
In Townsville, cars were mostly submerged, with picket fences barely poking through waist-deep flood waters.
"We’ve never seen so much water in our lives," said local radio journalist Gabi Elgood. "You think there can’t possibly be any more to come but the rain just doesn’t stop."
Emergency services have struggled to respond to the scale of the disaster, with more than 1,100 people calling for help and 18 "swift water rescues" conducted overnight.
"Up to 20,000 homes are at risk of being inundated if the rains continue, officials said.
"It’s basically not just a one in 20-year event, it’s a one-in-100-year event," said Palaszczuk.
"This is unprecedented, we’ve never seen anything like this before," she said.
Ergon Energy’s spokesperson Emma Oliveri told the AFP that more than 16,000 people were without power, with the supplier unable to say when the lights will come back on.
The main transport artery linking the north of Australia with the rest of the east coast was also affected, prompting concerns about food shortages.
Woolworths Northern Queensland Operations Manager Tina Anandji said the company had "secured two charter planes to carry 3,000 tonnes of fresh food and essential items" to the northern city of Cairns.
"We’ll continue to do all we can to get stock into Far North Queensland while the roads are cut," she said.