Military steps in as Australia tackles ‘once-in-a-century’ floods

The recent downpour has seen some of Australia’s tropical north get a year’s worth of rainfall in a week. (AAP Image via AP)
Updated 04 February 2019
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Military steps in as Australia tackles ‘once-in-a-century’ floods

  • Australia’s tropical north typically experiences heavy rains during the monsoon season
  • But the recent downpour has seen some areas get a year’s worth of rainfall in a week

CAIRNS: Australia’s military has been deployed to tackle devastating “once-in-a-century” floods that have inundated homes, schools and airports in the country’s northeast, forcing hundreds to flee and bringing crocodiles onto the streets.
The Australian Defense Forces delivered 70,000 sandbags, deployed amphibious cargo vehicles and helped pluck flashlight-wielding residents from their rooftops Monday, as monsoon rains drenched the northern state of Queensland.
Australia’s tropical north typically experiences heavy rains during the monsoon season, but the recent downpour has seen some areas get a year’s worth of rainfall in a week.
The authorities were forced to open floodgates of a major dam late Sunday, unleashing what they called “dangerous and high velocity flows.”
In hard-hit Townsville, cars were mostly submerged, with picket fences barely poking through waist-deep flood waters.
“We’ve never seen so much water in our lives,” said local radio journalist Gabi Elgood. “You think there can’t possibly be any more to come but the rain just doesn’t stop.”
Desperate residents had to contend not only with flash flooding, landslides and power blackouts, but also several saltwater crocodile sightings in residential roads and cul-de-sacs.
Queensland Police issued a blunt warning for people to stay out of floodwaters.

“If the thought of coming face to face with a crocodile isn’t deterrent enough, before you start playing in flood waters you should always remember the distinct possibility you could be wading in your neighbor’s faeces,” the statement said.
Emergency services have struggled to respond to the scale of the disaster, with more than 1,100 people calling for help and 18 “swift water rescues” conducted overnight.
“Small boats worked through the night to evacuate members of the community,” said local commander Brig. Scott Winter.
Around 400 Townsville residents have sought shelter at nearby Lavarak military barracks.
State premier Annastacia Palaszczuk warned the communities face more difficulties ahead. Schools and courts remain closed, more rain and high winds are on the way and emergency warnings still in effect for more than a dozen rivers.
Up to 20,000 homes are at risk of being inundated if the rains continue, officials said.
“It’s basically not just a one in 20-year event, it’s a one-in-100-year event,” said Palaszczuk.
“This is unprecedented, we’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said.


Poor air quality: Malaysia tells citizens to stay indoors

Updated 2 min 29 sec ago

Poor air quality: Malaysia tells citizens to stay indoors

  • Nearly 1,500 schools closed as haze continues to plague the country

KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysia’s haze problem worsened on Wednesday, some areas of the country recorded readings above 200 on the Air Pollution Index (API), which officials told Arab News is considered “very unhealthy.”

More than a million primary and high-school students stayed home as 1,484 schools remained closed in seven states, including Selangor and Sarawak — the two worst-affected states. 

In some areas of Sarawak, API readings were above 300, which is considered hazardous to the environment and human health. 

The Ministry of Education advised all higher education institutions in the haze-affected states to postpone their classes, while some companies and institutions, including the Ministry of Youth and Sports, asked employees to work from home.

Responding to the worsening situation, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhamad stressed that Malaysia must deal with the haze issue on its own.

“We will have to find ways to deal with the haze, through cloud seeding, asking people to stay at home, and school closures,” he said at a press conference in Putrajaya. 

The Malaysia government also stressed that it will take legal action against Malaysian companies that own estates and plantations outside Malaysia which have contributed to the problem. 

“We will ask them to put out the fires (they have set). If they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law that holds them responsible,” the 93-year-old Malaysian leader said.

The ASEAN Specialized Meteorological Centre reported that forest fires in Indonesia’s Sumatera and Kalimantan regions have intensified, leading to an increase in the haze across the Southeast Asian region. Those fires, coupled with the dry weather conditions in certain areas, mean the air quality is expected to continue to deteriorate. The general public have been advised to stay indoors and to wear facemasks if they do have to go outside.

Benjamin Ong, a Kuala Lumpur-based environmentalist told Arab News that many Malaysians are concerned about the ongoing and worsening issue of haze, which has become an annual occurrence despite efforts by Malaysia, Indonesia and other Southeast-Asian governments to tackle the transboundary problem. 

“Outdoor activities are badly affected, including environmental activities like hiking and outdoor classes for kids,” Ong said, adding that many families are especially concerned about the pollution’s impact on their children’s education.

“The haze has been hanging around for at least 20 years, but the root causes have never been systematically tackled,” he added. “Distribution of masks, school closures and cloud seeding are only treating the symptoms, so to speak, and do not in any way make society more resilient to haze if and when it returns.”