Families stranded on rooftops as heavy rains batter northern Australia and crocodiles stalk floodwaters

By Angus Watson, Hilary Whiteman and Jessie Yeung, CNN

Sydney CNN  — 

Floodwaters brought by northern Australia’s heaviest rain in decades left a number of families stranded on rooftops overnight — and even swept a crocodile into one town — as weather forecasters predicted more deluges Monday that are likely to hamper rescue efforts.

Cairns, a city of more than 150,000 people known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, has been almost entirely cut off by heavy rains brought by the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Jasper, which made landfall last week before stalling over Queensland, authorities say.

“We have people stuck on roofs there that have been there all night,” Queensland Premier Steven Miles said Monday.

Nine people, including a child, were stranded on the roof of a hospital about 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of Cairns, he said.

“We can’t get aerial support into them because the cloud is so low and the rain is just so heavy,” he added. “So we have people standing by ready to do those rescues. But we’ve got to wait till it’s safe to do so.”

A car inundated with water near the Barron River in Cairns, Australia, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023.

Some 300 people were rescued in and around Cairns on Sunday, the Queensland state emergency service said Monday. No deaths or injuries have been reported, according to authorities.

Cairns recorded more than 300 millimeters (about 11.81 inches) of rain in six hours, and more than 650 millimeters (about 25.6 inches) across 19 hours, Miles said.

Photos from the city showed roads entirely submerged in murky water, with many damaged or collapsed. One image from CNN affiliate Nine News showed a passenger plane half underwater, with the Cairns Airport closed over the weekend, and all flights canceled.

The rain left about 15,000 residents without power, Miles said. He added there were “hundreds” of personnel on the ground – including from the police, military and energy providers – but “the real problem at the moment is the rain just won’t stop.”

Fallen trees are seen in a suburb in Cairns, Australia, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023, following heavy rains in the area.

He also warned of dire water shortages in Cairns, where the local council has warned people to conserve water for emergency use only. After rescuing those still stranded, authorities must next contend with problems accessing drinking water, sewage systems, power and telecommunications, and clearing blocked roads, he said.

Authorities have also warned flood-hit Queensland residents to be wary of snakes and crocodiles in the floodwaters.

Rangers in the town of Ingham said Monday they had removed a 2.5 meter- (8 feet) long saltwater crocodile from a flooded creek near a public park. Police told CNN two children called them after spotting the reptile, with workers from the state environment department arriving after seeing social media videos.

The rangers used a harpoon to catch the crocodile and remove it from the creek. “People in flood affected areas cannot be complacent and the capture of this animal is a timely reminder that crocodiles can turn up in unusual places, including places they have never been seen before,” the state environment department said in a statement.

Major flood warnings were in place for a number of rivers in Far North Queensland on Monday morning, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM). It warned of more flash flooding in the region, with 300 millimeters of rain expected every six hours Monday between the towns of Hope Vale and Port Douglas.

“The risk in those areas is still very much there for potentially life threatening and very dangerous flash flooding,” said BOM Senior Meteorologist Laura Boeke.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also pledged the military’s full support for disaster relief efforts, telling public broadcaster ABC on Monday there are defense personnel on standby. The government has provided financial support for residents directly impacted, he said.

“The forecast, tragically, is predicting more rain still throughout today and the major flood warnings are in place for several communities which are already cut off or without power,” Albanese said.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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