February 23, 2024

Cairns airport has been closed in anticipation of record flooding in the far north Queensland city as the state premier, Steven Miles, declared a “serious weather emergency” in the wake of ex-Tropical Cyclone Jasper.

On Sunday afternoon Miles said flood levels in Cairns were expected to exceed the previous record of 1977 and there were “significant concerns” for many communities in the far north.

“We’ve seen rainfall in some places of almost 600mm with more to come,” he said. “There are currently 10,500 people without power.”

Emergency crews responded to calls after heavy rainfall battered towns, causing power outages and trapping some people in their homes.

A 10-year-old girl who was struck by lightning in Beerwah on the Sunshine Coast during severe thunderstorms on Saturday was in a critical condition in Queensland children’s hospital in Brisbane on Sunday.

While Jasper was downgraded to a “tropical low” and reached the waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria overnight on Saturday, heavy rainfall continued on Sunday as people awaited rescue near Cooktown, Mena Creek and Mount Molloy.

Among them were two men who had been stranded for more than 16 hours at Melonsby station in Cooktown. Police said emergency services had been called to the property about 10.40pm on Saturday by reports the men were trapped there.

“Initial investigations indicate both men are safe and well, with an evacuation expected to take place when weather permits, and it safe to do so,” a police spokesperson said just before 2pm on Sunday.

State Emergency Service crews responded to 532 requests for help in the 24 hours to midday on Sunday.

Authorities on Sunday afternoon warned far north residents to expect continuous heavy rainfall for at least another day in what they called a “life-threatening event”.

They urged people to stay in their homes and avoid driving unless they felt unsafe and needed to get to a nearby evacuation centre.

“I have never seen rain like this,” said a Port Douglas resident, Sara Mulcahy. “Roads are flooded, we are cut off from Cairns, Mossman and the interior. People are having to leave their homes in the low-lying parts.”

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Queensland Fire and Emergency Services issued an warning on social media after it said multiple people in far north Queensland had been rescued after deliberately driving into flood waters.

“We cannot be clearer on how dangerous this is, not only for those deliberately entering the water, but also for our emergency services who risk their lives to save you,” QFES wrote.

An emergency alert was issued for Mossman on Sunday morning, with authorities warning people to seek shelter at home or evacuate to the local high school.

A car inundated with water nearby the Barron River in Cairns
Residents in flooded far north Queensland are bracing for more rain as ex-Tropical Cyclone Jasper edges its way towards the Northern Territory. Photograph: Joshua Prieto/AAP

The deputy premier, Cameron Dick, announced an expansion of the state and federal government’s disaster assistance program to allow more residents to apply for emergency payments and some councils to apply for reconstruction grants.

On Sunday afternoon the Bureau of Meteorology had major flood warnings in place for the Barron, Daintree, Herbert, Mulgrave, Tully and Murray rivers and the Johnstone River catchment. There were flood warnings for the Mossman and Russell rivers.

The weather bureau said it was uncertain how strong Jasper would be next weekend and there was a “moderate risk” it could re-develop from next Saturday.

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