A special report on widespread flooding by FNQ correspondents
Tuesday, December 19. Massive rainfall, in some areas up to two metres, wind and floods in the wake of Cat 2 Cyclone Jasper has wreaked immense damage on Far Northern infrastructure that will take several years to repair and cost several billion dollars at first estimate.
The cyclone weakened into a low pressure system on Monday after uncharacteristically hovering over Cairns and the hinterland for four days dumping massive rainfall then moving further north along Cape York Peninsula.
Yesterday two Chinook military helicopters attempted to evacuate the Aboriginal community of Wujal Wujal between Cairns and Cooktown situated on the banks of the crocodile infested, flooded Bloomfield River but poor visibility and strong winds thwarted the attempt.
After another sortie today most of the inhabitants were airlifted to Cooktown where they stayed in a cyclone shelter or moved in with relatives.
Roof-top sanctuaries for its population of 290 inhabitants have protected them from raging water and voracious crocodiles.
Food and water supplies now are non-existent and there is no road access to the community.
Nearby 18 people who had been visiting the famous Lions Den Hotel near Cooktown spent a cold night on the pub roof as floodwaters rose around them.
Douglas Shire centered on Port Douglas and Mossman one hour north of Cairns has been devastated. Food and water supplies are being delivered to the Port by boat from Cairns.
The Captain Cook Highway linking the Port and Mossman to Cairns has been smashed by torrential rain in excess of one-and-one-half metres or 1500 mm.
It could be many weeks before the highway can be reopened leaving the only access to Port Douglas and Mossman by sea and the Rex Range to the west.
The economic loss through a lack of tourists on which the area largely survives will be enormous.
Cairns beach suburbs have been inundated by floodwaters and tonnes of mud which have wrecked hundreds of plush homes in the seaside suburbs of Holloways Beach, Yorkeys Knob, Machans Beach and suburb of Caravonica.
The Rex Range western access to Mossman and the Port reopened yesterday after a large landslip was removed by council.
The notorious Kuranda Range Road remains closed from numerous landslips and large trees preventing hundreds of Tablelands residents form getting to work in Cairns. It could be reopened by Wednesday.
The range road suffered enormously from 70 knot wind gusts and driving rain after the former Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey several years ago ordered road maintenance crews not to remove trees or woody vegetation growing along the edge of the 10 klm roadside.
Minister Bailey and then Environment Minister Steven Miles, now Premier, wanted the tree canopy to completely cover the narrow winding road leaving the regrowth forest trees a prime target for a cyclone.
Similar issues have caused road closures across the north where roads have been blocked by falling trees which were once cleared several metres back from roadsides.
The Palmerston Highway, a major truck transport route linking the Bruce Highway to the Atherton Tablelands has suffered extraordinary damage from trees and water erosion.
This is a main arterial route for B-Doubles taking bananas and other fruit to southern markets.
Cairns airport was inundated leaving debris scattered across the tarmac and landing strips. It opened one runway today after being closed for four days.
Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Laura Boekel said flooding was easing, with the focus now turning to around the Cape York area for showers and storms.
“We have one major flood warning current, and that’s for the Murray River,” she said.
“The Daintree River has now been downgraded to a moderate flood warning.
“However these showers and thunderstorms might bring significant rainfall and it could lead to localised flash flooding during today and into Wednesday.”
Since last Thursday, many areas from Tully to Cape Melville have already received between 400 and 1000 millimetres of rainfall, with localised falls of 1200-1600mm between Cairns and Cooktown.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he would travel to the region late Thursday and Friday.
From 2pm tomorrow, applications for the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment and Disaster Recovery Allowance will open for people who live and work in the council areas affected.
This includes Cairns, Cassowary Coast, Mareeba, Tablelands and Wujal Wujal.
“[The Disaster Recovery Payment] is a one-off payment of $1,000 per eligible adult and $400 per eligible child who suffered a significant loss as a result of the floods, including a severely damaged or destroyed home or a serious injury,” Mr Albanese said.
The Disaster Recovery Allowance provides up to 13 weeks of federal income support to assist eligible employees or sole traders who experience a loss of income as a direct result of a major disaster.
People will soon be able to check their eligibility and how to claim on the Services Australia website.
*Retired Tablelands farmer Peter Gargan, 78, said he remembered in the late 60’s a massive rainfall event which dumped up to 60 inches(1500mm) of rain across the Far North.
“This big weather event is not unusual for the north, my parents told me years ago there was another similar big rainfall about 1932,” he said.
Editor: This report is by no means exhaustive and the extent of the damage is unable to be presented in one post. We will post more reports as they come to hand. Photo credits ABC