Unprecedented flooding has left 12 Queensland communities isolated and prompted widespread evacuations, with more expected as floodwaters continue to rise.
Ms Bligh, who has visited some of the worst-affected communities including Bundaberg, says the water in some areas is unlikely to recede for a week or more.
“It’s an enormous disaster,” she told ABC Television on Thursday, noting that the early forecasts had not predicted the scale of the disaster.
“What we’ve never seen is so many towns, so many communities, so many regions all affected at once. It is a miserable and heart-breaking event.”
The Queensland government so far has pledged $1 million to an emergency relief fund, a contribution matched by the federal government.
Ms Bligh says much more will be needed.
“The recovery … is going to require literally billions of dollars from federal, state and local governments (and) insurance companies,” she said, urging Australians to “dig deep” and donate to the appeal.
“Even two dollars makes a difference when it all adds up.” Acting federal Attorney-General Brendan O’Connor described the flooding as the worst in decades adding that the cost won’t be known for some time.
“The damage bill will be extremely significant,” he told ABC Radio. “But I (assure) the federal government will work with the state government to fund the building of roads, bridges and schools.”
The federal government has also sent two military helicopters to help with evacuations while the defence force is on stand-by to provide further resources.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard will visit flood affected areas in Queensland over the coming days.
Bundaberg split in two
Floodwaters have split the southeast Queensland town of Bundaberg in two, inundating 120 properties and forcing almost 100 people to sleep in evacuation centres.
The Burnett River peaked at 7.9 metres overnight, it’s highest level since 1942 when it reached 8.4 metres.
Deputy Mayor Tony Ricciardi said 100 homes and two dozen businesses had water above the floorboards.
About 400 people were evacuated overnight, with most staying with family and friends but about 100 headed to evacuation centres for the night.
Two people had to be rescued from their roof in north Bundaberg, police told AAP.
A second evacuation centre was set up overnight at North Bundaberg State High School, with 40 people seeking shelter there.
In the city’s east, 46 people were holed up at the Civic Centre.
“We’ve been evacuating all night,” Mr Ricciardi said.
“They’re upset, it’s Christmas and that. This is a one-in-100 year event, we won’t see this again in our lifetime, well, I hope.”
River ‘slowly receding’
The river is receding very slowly and at 7am (AEST) on Thursday it was at 7.85m, Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Chris Edhouse told AAP.
Mr Ricciardi said the town was facing a massive clean up bill, and farmers in the region had been very hard hit.
He said Bundaberg was the largest tomato growing region in Queensland, and many macadamia, avocado and sugar cane farmers would also be severely affected.
Eighty per cent of Emerald to go under
Meanwhile, about 80 per cent of Emerald is expected to be inundated when a record flood peak hits the central Queensland town today.
Authorities on Thursday revised upwards the expected peak for the Nogoa River to 16.2 metres.
That’s 80 centimetres above what was initially forecast and well beyond the 2008 flood level, which reached 15.36 metres and forced almost 3000 evacuations.
“This changes the whole dynamic,” Mayor Peter Maguire told the ABC.
“In 2008, we were in new territory and we’re in new territory again.
“The best advice we have now is that 80 per cent of the town will have water around it, in it.”
He said the worst effects were being felt on the western side of the river, and the lower parts of the eastern side.
He said there were pockets of higher ground where people could take refuge, and so far evacuation centres where people were already holed up were safe.
He said no movement was possible between the north and south sides of the town, and people had been urged to prepare to head to their nearest evacuation point.
“Don’t leave your animals at home or your mother-in-laws,” he joked.
Emerald residents have been told to prepare for evacuation and their homes for flooding. About 200 people already have spent the night in evacuation centres.
Mr Maguire said water was across the western highway to Anakie and rail bridge access was expected to be lost and would likely stay out for several days.
Sandbagging is also taking place across the town.
“Where there is inundation in areas served by underground power, it is expected the power will be turned off for safety reasons.
Power could also go off in other areas,” the mayor said.
“There is potential in some areas for sewerage to come up out of wastes in inundated areas.
Floodwater could be contaminated so do not swim or enter floodwaters.”
The disaster management group plans to post maps on the Central Highlands Regional Council website, indicating times at which people need to evacuate in northern and southern locations.
500 homes at risk in Rockhampton
Up to 500 homes are at risk of flooding in the central Queensland city of Rockhampton, where the mayor fears a repeat of the devastating 1991 floods.
Vast amounts of rain have fallen in catchments that feed into the Fitzroy River, which is expected to reach major flood levels above 8.5 metres in coming days.
Levels could remain at about eight metres for up to 10 days, the Bureau of Meteorology says.
At 7am (AEST) on Thursday, the river was sitting at eight metres but Rockhampton mayor Brad Carter fears it could rival the 1991 flood when the river reached 9.3 metres as a result of rain from a cyclone.
“It’s becoming very serious,” Mr Carter told the ABC.
The regional council’s website says 400 to 500 houses are at risk of water inundation if the river gets to 8.5 metres.
At that level, the airport may also have to close and the city would be totally cut off by road and air.
“We urge residents to prepare for self-evacuation to friends living in higher areas, and don’t forget to take your pets and medications with you,” Mr Carter said on the website in a message to residents.
“River levels will stay high … for an extended time so make sure your properties are prepared and help out your neighbours.”