Two dead, tens of thousands stranded by Australia floods

Cyclone Debbie has pummelled Queensland state since crashing ashore as a category four storm on Tuesday between Bowen and Airlie Beach, ripping up trees, washing boats onto land and causing widespread damage.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said heavy rainfall is expected to continue for about the next 24 hours and some residents were preparing sandbags to avoid any further flood damage to their properties.

In south-east Queensland, thousands of residents left low-lying areas of Logan, Beaudesert and the northern Gold Coast on Friday due to rising water levels in the Logan and Albert rivers.

"There could be people overnight that perished in that flood, we don't know at this stage", Mark Morrow of the New South Wales State Emergency Service told the BBC.

Further south in Lismore, the State Emergency Service said the situation was "very, very serious" as the levee created to protect the city cracked and was breached by floodwaters about 4am on Friday.

"We had a person rescued last night that had driven into waters with family members and that person was charged with drink driving afterwards", he said.

On Thursday night, rescue crews fielded more than 130 calls for help. It has also given more than 20,000 people immediate evacuation orders.

Saturday is likely to be generally dry but the arrival of another cold front on Sunday should see showers redevelop "with the odd heavy falls on the coast", he said.

There are already fears for the survival of corals in the central and northern areas of the World Heritage-listed marine ecosystem that stretches 2,300 kilometres (around 1,430 miles) off the Queensland state coast, after two consecutive years of mass bleaching from warming sea temperatures.

"We have a very, very large state here and this is a very, very big weather system that's going to wreak havoc all the way down the coast", Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

"The water's the highest I've ever seen it, heaps of shops are closed and most places shut at midday yesterday and everyone went home while they still could", Natasha Bolden told Reuters from the Murwillumbah Golf Club. "We also have structural engineers who are on the ground at the moment".

Cyclone Debbie is estimated to have caused $150 million in damages to the sugar cane industry, and it's not over yet-more rain is in the forecast.

  • Joanne Flowers