Brisbane, Australia — A woman drowned after trying to cross a flooded causeway in Australia, becoming the first victim of relentless flooding that one official has described as reaching “biblical proportions,” police said Sunday.
Days of driving rain last week swamped northeastern Australia, with about 200,000 people affected by floodwaters in an area larger than France and Germany combined. While the rain has stopped, rivers are still surging to new heights and overflowing into low-lying towns as the water makes its way toward the ocean.
On Saturday night, two cars trying to cross a flooded causeway were swept into a river in Burketown, in western Queensland state, police said. A 41-year-old woman traveling in the second car disappeared in the rushing water, and her body was recovered Sunday about 1.2 miles away, Queensland police said.
“We’re just grateful there weren’t more casualties,” Queensland’s Acting Assistant Police Commissioner Alistair Dawson said. “We’re focused on preventing any more.”
About 1,000 people were living in evacuation centers across the state, and it may be a month before floodwaters dry up, Dawson said.
“It’s hard to make the call that the worst is behind us,” he said. “It’s a unique event — parts of the state are still in response mode while others are in recovery. I think we’re in the middle of the event.”
Officials say half of Queensland’s 715,305 square miles has been affected by the flooding. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh warned that cleanup efforts were expected to cost billions of dollars.
“In many ways, it is a disaster of biblical proportions,” Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser told reporters in the flooded city of Bundaberg on Saturday.
The city of Rockhampton, near the coast, is the next community in the water’s path, and is bracing for flood levels to peak Wednesday.
Officials have been evacuating Rockhampton residents for days, and some were still being moved on Sunday.