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Australians assess flood damage from cyclone as rescue efforts ramp up

SYDNEY – Residents in Australia’s north-east on Dec 19 took stock of flood damage from former tropical cyclone Jasper, and the authorities accelerated efforts to rescue people stranded in remote towns as rivers stayed above dangerous levels.

Jasper made landfall last week as a Category Two storm, three rungs below the most dangerous wind speed level, in the far north of Queensland state, home to several resorts along the world-famous Great Barrier Reef.

It was soon downgraded to a tropical low, but the system moved slowly, dumping months’ worth of rain over four days, cutting off entire towns and inundating homes, roads and farms.

Conditions have since eased, with military personnel joining the state’s emergency crews on evacuations and relief efforts.

A search continues for an 85-year-old man missing in flood waters.

Flights from Cairns Airport, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, will resume on Dec 19, officials said.

“Today, we will really see the beginning of the recovery effort across much of Far North Queensland. So, there will be a big focus on recovery work,” Federal Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“We are going to see a very large amount of property damage… so, I think we are up for a pretty expensive repair bill,” he said.

The Insurance Council of Australia said the flooding could be escalated to an insurance catastrophe if there was a spike in claims, though it was too early to determine the full impact.

Television footage showed residents walking through homes strewn with debris and sludge after water levels receded in some towns during a pause in rain.

The authorities said most of the 300 residents from the flooded remote Indigenous town of Wujal Wujal will be evacuated soon.

Some residents there had to wade through crocodile-infested waters to get to higher ground, according to media reports.

A 2.8m-long crocodile was captured on Dec 18 in a storm drain in Ingham, a town of about 5,000.

Crocodile sightings in north Queensland are more common in rivers, lagoons and swamps in rural areas. REUTERS

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