Flood emergency: Thousands urged to evacuate in Queensland amid severe floods, Australia

flood queensland australia december 17 2023

On Sunday, December 17, 2023, Australian authorities issued a critical warning for thousands in north Queensland to move to higher ground due to the imminent threat of flooding from heavy rains.

Major flooding is already affecting several suburbs of Cairns, a city of approximately 170 000 people located 1 700 km (1 060 miles) north of Brisbane. In multiple emergency alerts, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services have emphasized the urgency of relocating to safer areas as properties continue to be at risk from the approaching high tide and persistent rainfall.

This severe flooding is a consequence of the heavy rains brought by the now ex-Tropical Cyclone Jasper, which has left tens of thousands without power and led to several evacuations.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has predicted “dangerous and life-threatening flash flooding” in Cairns, warning that water levels might surpass the historic 1971 flood peak of 4.1 m (13.45 feet).

The situation in Cairns is critical, with homes, buildings, roads, and bridges inundated. Essential services such as power, water, sewerage, and telephone are at risk of disruption.

582 mm (22.9 inches) of rain was recorded in Black Mountain in just 24 hours, Kuranda registered 501 mm (19.7 inches), Port Douglas 357 mm (14 inches), Cairns Airport 309 mm (12.2 inches), and Innisfail 336 mm (13.2 inches).

At least 10 000 homes are currently without power.

Dean Narramore, a spokesperson for the weather forecaster, noted that the weather system had stalled but might move west overnight, potentially easing the rainfall in Cairns and surrounding areas.

“We’ve undertaken a number of rescues in the last 16 hours, 24 hours, where water has risen that rapidly that people haven’t been able to get out,” Deputy Commissioner Chapley said. He emphasized the importance of safety, urging, “If you are feeling unsafe, if you think that you’re at risk of being flooded, our evacuation centres are open. Move now and we can support you there. It’s much better than having us come in and rescue you.”

Addressing the extent of the impact, he said, “It’s hard to know how many properties have been affected by flood waters, but low-lying properties in and around Innisfail, Mossman River, and Gordonvale are areas of concern. As the water rises and falls, we know we’ve had some impacts in around the Cairns area. We just don’t know how many at the moment, because we are still in the response phase trying to keep people safe.”

With Cairns airport closed and several aircraft partially submerged, he pointed out the challenges in rescue efforts: “The rain is so heavy, we can’t get any airlift support. We can’t get any helicopter support into the communities that are isolated. But the district disaster groups, the local disaster groups have been planning all day, all of last night, and the moment we get a break in the weather, we’re ready to go.”

Ex-Tropical Cyclone Jasper is slow moving over the Cape York Peninsula, and at 08:00 UTC on December 17 was around 70 km (43 miles) south southeast of Kowanyama.

The system is weak and even though it is likely to move over the Gulf of Carpentaria during the week it is a Very Low risk of re-development through to Wednesday, December 22.

From Thursday to Sunday, conditions improve slightly for development and there is a Low chance of reaching tropical cyclone intensity again.

ex-tropical cyclone jasper at 0650 utc on december 17 2023
Image credit: JMA/Himawari-9, RAMMB/CIRA, The Watchers. Acquired at 06:50 UTC on December 17, 2023


1 Thousands urged to higher ground as Australia battles floods – Reuters – December 17, 2023

2 Record rain following Jasper causes flooding – Newswire – December 17, 2023

3 Ex-Tropical Cyclone Jasper 02U – BOM – December 17, 2023


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