Australia flood clean-up starts, tough task ahead

The clean up operation has started in Australia`s flood-hit Queensland on a post war scale.

Updated: Jan 14, 2011, 12:44 PM IST

Brisbane: Australia`s third-largest city started cleaning up stinking mud and debris on Friday after some of the country`s worst floods on record, but in a sign of the task ahead, it could take six months to pump flood waters out of Queensland`s coal mines.

Many suburbs in the state`s capital Brisbane, a city of two million people, remained submerged after floodwaters inundated the riverside city on Thursday.

The floods in Queensland, which started in December 2010, have killed 19 people. Tens of thousands of homes have been inundated with floodwater and more than 60 people are missing.

"Right now we are still rescuing people, we are still evacuating people. So we are right in the middle of the emergency response," said Queensland state premier Anna Bligh, who has described Brisbane as looking like a war zone.

"We need to brace ourselves, when this goes down and its going down quite quickly, its going to stink -- an unbearable stench," said Bligh.

The disaster has crippled Queensland`s infrastructure and its coal exports, pushing up world prices by around a third.

The event has been blamed on the strongest ever recorded La Nina weather phenomenon in the Pacific, which has also affected other countries.

Heavy monsoon rains and flooding across a third of Sri Lanka have killed 23 people, forced 100,000 to leave their homes and threatened food supplies on the island.

Sri Lanka`s agricultural ministry said at least a fifth of the nation`s rice crop had been destroyed, raising concerns over supply shocks and higher food inflation.

Rising food prices are stoking global inflation with many agricultural commodity markets driven higher by bad weather in key producing countries. Record food prices are also raising the risk of riots in developing nations and trade protectionism.

Bligh said her government would concentrate efforts to help the state coal industry meet demand in Asia, after Commonwealth Bank estimated the floods would remove 14 million tonnes, or 5 percent, of global coking coal exports this year.
"This is critical right now, to get that supply chain fully functional," Bligh told reporters.

Australia`s Gladstone Ports Corporation said on Friday it will restart some coal export shipments on Saturday as rail lines serving the terminal reopen and it begins to replenish stocks that have fallen to two days of supply.

Freight operator QR National said on Thursday that its Blackwater line serving Gladstone could resume service as earlier as Jan 20.
The line has been closed since December and serves the state`s biggest coal miners, including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata. They have all declared force majeure, unable to meet export contracts.

Still, a lack of equipment means that it could be up to six months before mines can return to full operation, mining contractors said.