Mackay: The Australian military on Monday raced to bring food and supplies to the flood-hit northern city of Rockhampton before it is cut off by rising waters, as the disaster claimed its third fatality.
Up to 200,000 people are estimated to have been hit by the fast-flowing waters that have inundated 22 rural towns in the country`s northeast, across an area the size of France and Germany.
The military was rushing food and medical supplies to Rockhampton, population 75,000, on Monday as the coastal city braced for floods which are expected to cut off hundreds of more homes.
"Looks like Rockhampton`s in the middle of an inland sea," Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said after flying over the area. "The amount of water coming down these river systems is nothing short of astonishing.
"It is little wonder we`re seeing so much heartbreak and so much tragedy in many of our major towns and our smaller regional centres."
The airport to the regional hub was closed while floods blocked roads to the south and west, prompting concerns among officials that the large population centre could run low on food.
"The affected area is greater than the size of New South Wales (state), with the worst still to come in communities like Rockhampton," Bligh said.
"Supplying them with food, ensuring that we keep them safe during this flood is absolutely critical."
Prime Minister Julia Gillard offered emergency funds to those affected by the floods, including farmers more used to battling crippling droughts, as well as to small businesses.
"When the floodwaters recede, we are going to see a lot of damage but we will obviously be working with the state government to rebuild that essential community infrastructure," Gillard told reporters in Sydney.
"All in all, we know hundreds of millions of dollars are going to flow into Queensland."
Gillard, who toured some of the devastated areas Friday, said that for some communities these were "the biggest floods they have ever seen" and warned people to be aware of the risks of the fast-flowing waters.
Police confirmed the third death since the floods were declared a disaster, that of a man who drowned after his vehicle was swept into a flooded river.
His death follows that of a man who died after abandoning his boat as it took on water Saturday and that of a woman who drowned as she was swept away by surging waters that swamped her car.
Ten people have now died in flood-related accidents since November 30 -- including three whose vehicles were swept away, two people who attempted to swim in fast-flowing waters, a man who was knocked off a footbridge and a girl who drowned while trying to walk across a river.
Queensland state assistant police commissioner Alistair Dawson has warned the emergency could drag on for a month, saying that, while parts of the state were in recovery mode, others were bracing for the worst.
Rockhampton Mayor Brad Carter said the flooding, set to peak in Wednesday in that city, would take a long time to recede.
"We expect to have our airport closed for the best part of three weeks," he told reporters on Monday.
The floods are wreaking untold billions of dollars in damage to crops and Australia`s key mining industry, while farmers, small businesses and tourism are also expected to suffer.
While more people were expected to throng evacuation centres in places such as Rockhampton on Monday, in other parts of the state residents were beginning to return to their homes to begin the massive clean-up.
In Bundaberg, in Queensland`s southeast, the clean-up had begun in about 300 homes and 120 businesses as flood waters receded, but other towns such as Theodore and Condamine remained empty of residents.
"It`s just devastating," Queenslander Beryl Callaghan told Sky News after returning to her water-damaged home.