Feb 4, 2019

‘Unprecedented’ Floods in Australia Force Hundreds to Evacuate

Townsville QLD
Australia
by
Livia Albeck-Ripka
,
The New York Times
Residents paddling down a street in Townsville, Australia, on Saturday. “In seven days, we’ve received our annual total rainfall,” the mayor said. Photo: Andrew Rankin, EPA, via Shutterstock
Residents paddling down a street in Townsville, Australia, on Saturday. “In seven days, we’ve received our annual total rainfall,” the mayor said. Photo: Andrew Rankin, EPA, via Shutterstock

After weeks of unrelenting heat and bushfires across the continent, torrential rain and flooding in northern Australia have forced hundreds of residents to evacuate their homes in what weather officials describe as an “unprecedented” event.

Since Jan. 26, there has been close to two feet of rain on average in the Townsville region, a coastal city in the state of Queensland, and up to twice that at some weather stations, eclipsing records set in 1998 during a flood known as the “Night of Noah.”

“In seven days, we’ve received our annual total rainfall,” said Jenny Hill, the mayor of Townsville. “We’ve never seen weather like this.”

Ms. Hill said that about 18,000 residents had lost power and that hundreds of others had evacuated, including some who left their suburb on a garbage truck. Elsewhere, two police officers were stuck clinging to treesfor half an hour after their car was washed away by floodwaters, while residents reported snakes and crocodiles roaming the streets.

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The floods follow weeks of unrelenting heat across Australia, which caused mass animal die-offs, raging bushfires, and prolonged and severe drought. The back-to-back events have stretched the capacity of Australia’s emergency services to respond, said Martin Rice, the acting chief executive of the Climate Council, an Australian research group.

He said that while it was difficult to attribute any one extreme weather event to climate change, warming air temperatures had increased the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, “causing more frequent and intense rainfall in northern Australia.”