(Pictured above, cars are inundated during flash flooding in Fortitude Vallay. Picture from News.com.au)
By Michael Perry
SYDNEY, Australia - Residents of low-lying parts of Australia's third largest city, Brisbane, sandbagged their homes against rising waters on Monday as torrential rain exacerbated record floods that have paralysed the coal industry in the northeast and now threaten tourism.
Weather officials issued a severe weather alert, warning of flash flooding and worsening river floods in Queensland state's heavily populated southeast and the centre of the country's lucrative Gold Coast tourist strip.
"People need to think about how to get out and if you don't need to travel, stay off the roads," said Police Chief Superintendent Alistair Dawson.
The worst floods in 50 years, affecting an area the size of France and Germany combined, began last month and have severely cut Queensland's $20 billion coking coal export industry, starving Asian steel mills of coal and pushing up world prices.
Coal stocks were running low at the key coal port of Dalrymple Bay, but it was receiving enough to keep loading ships, while the port of Gladstone said it may be days to weeks before it starts getting coal supplies back to normal.
More than 200,000 people and more than 10,700 properties have been affected in the Christmas-New Year floods, which have killed four people. The floods have caused an estimated $5 billion in damages.
The weather bureau forecast monsoonal rains would continue for the rest of the week, giving flooded towns little respite as some residents clean-up and others build levees to stop floodwaters.
The fresh heavy rains were causing flash flooding, quickly cutting off some small towns and flooding homes and businesses.
"The State Emergency Service advises that people in the affected area should avoid driving, walking or riding through flood waters, take care on the roads, especially in heavy downpours and avoid swimming in swollen rivers and creeks," said the Bureau of Meteorology's severe weather warning.
A major concern now is the ground is so waterlogged the heavy rains are unable to be absorbed and full rivers, creeks and man-made watercourses are bursting their banks.
About 116,000 megalitres of water a day was being released from Brisbane's Wivenhoe Dam, which may cause road closures, said local authorities. The heavy rains had also forced authorities to release water from other near-full dams around Brisbane and the Gold Coast, further exacerbating the floods.
Almost 3,000 homes in Queensland's southeast were left without power overnight as a result of flooding, which has closed the Brisbane Valley Highway.
Brisbane City Council on Monday started issuing sandbags to residents in low-lying parts of the city.
Floods paralyse coal industry
Floods have paralysed operations that produce 35 per cent of Australia's estimated 259 million tonnes of exportable coal. Australia contributes two-thirds of global coking-coal exports, needed to make steel.
Global miners Anglo American , Rio Tinto , Xstrata and BHP Billiton , have all been hit by the floods, and all have made force majeure declarations.
While flooding has begun to recede in the main Bowen Basin coal region, many mines remain flooded and will take weeks to be drained and resume full production. And while some rail links between mines and the ports have resumed, others remain under water.
"All the systems apart form the Blackwater (rail line) are operating so we are just waiting for that floodwater to recede," said a QR National railway spokesman. "When the flood waters come down we will have a good opportunity to have a look at what's underneath and see what the recovery will be."
Roughly 8 per cent of the world's thermal coal production - used in power generation - has been temporarily eliminated by the flooding, according to Australia & New Zealand Bank analyst Mark Pervan.
Analysts expect steel coals to rise as much as a third to $300 a tonne in the aftermath of the floods, sweeping thermal coal prices higher in the process.
Asian steel-makers are anxious over Australian supplies, worried the disruptions could outlast their stockpiles, which typically hold around a month's worth of consumption.
In 2008, flooding stalled some mines for as long as six months, but others began producing within six weeks.