Mopping up in north Queensland has begun and flood-ravaged communities have been warned of the heartache to come during their journey to recovery.
In Townsville, residents were heaving flood-damaged belongings from mud-filled homes on Feb. 6 although several suburbs remained underwater with fears of more flash flooding.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the once-in-a-century flood that has killed two men and forced thousands from their homes was “unprecedented.”
She warned that although north Queenslanders were resilient people, the enormity of what they’d been through would soon hit.
“They’re going to feel it now. Not just for the days and weeks ahead—it’s going to be months and years,” she said. “To go back into your home and to have lost things and having to rebuild … is going to be very hard for many people to take on.”
In Townsville 2,000 homes were inundated by floodwater and 20,000 more are expected to have been damaged.
It was still raining on Feb. 6 but less than 15mm of rain fell between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The lull comes as more than 100 police officers, nurses, and power workers flew in to relieve exhausted local colleagues, many anxious to attend their own flood-damaged homes.
Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill said more flash flooding is possible and the emergency won’t be over until the Ross River Dam’s floodgates are closed.
“We still have to maintain 24-hour vigilance—which is why we keep saying to people ‘it is not over yet,'” she told AAP.
About 350 people remain in four evacuation centres and 8,600 people are without power.
But schools and businesses are reopening just days after people were being rescued from inundated homes and waterways.
Insurance claims for the Townsville floods have already hit $80 million, with the damage bill set to soar as more residents return to their waterlogged homes.
More than 13,000 applications for flood recovery payments have been received and $1.2 million paid out.
ICA Communications Manager Campbell Fuller told AAP they expected the bill from this event to be in line with ex-Cyclone Oswald, which caused $1.26 billion of damage in Queensland and northern NSW in 2013.
He rejected warnings from Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill that north Queenslanders would not accept unfair premium rises following the floods.
“Right now we’re focused on fixing properties,” he said. “Any talk of premium rises is premature.”
Cr Hill urged insurance companies to process claims quickly to help residents get back on their feet.
“The recovery effort is going to take some time, but the job becomes that much easier when insurance companies act as responsible corporate citizens,” she said.
The ICA said insurers in Australia have used a standard definition for flood since 2012, which includes water escaping from a dam, including an intentional release.
Elsewhere in north Queensland, other flood-hit communities near Giru, Richmond, Halifax, Charter Towers, Hughenden, and Julia Creek remain isolated by floodwaters.
The state government has kicked off a flood appeal with a donation of $200,000, and The Queen has also sent a message of support.
The monsoonal trough is expected to bring further heavy rain and damaging winds between Cardwell and Sarina, south of Mackay, on Feb. 7 but is expected to move offshore by Feb. 8.
Major flood warnings also remain in place for the Herbert, Haughton, Upper Burdekin, Flinders, Cloncurry, and Leichhardt rivers.
The vigorous weather system has also generated floods out west, with farmers reporting livestock and crop losses.
A severe weather warning is also in place on the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula where damaging winds and heavy rain are possible.
By Brisbane staff reporters and Christine Flatley