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Massive flooding in Australia could continue for weeks

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: A Queensland official says 1,200 to 1,500 people are out of their homes
  • Meteorologist: Flooding could continue for weeks
  • At least 10 people have died in flooding since November 30
  • The floodwaters cover an area the size of France and Germany combined

Sydney (CNN) -- Vast flooding covering much of eastern Australia could remain for weeks, as more than 1,200 residents remain out of deluged homes Wednesday.

As of late Wednesday night, the Fitzroy River was hovering around 9.2 meters (30 feet), CNN meteorologist Jennifer Delgado said.

"The river has crested, it appears, and it looks like it is going to be slowly falling as we go through the next several days," Delgado said.

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By next week, floodwaters could remain at levels of about 8.5 meters (28 feet), Delgado said, but flooding could still affect the region for "several weeks."

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  • Australia
  • Queensland
  • Floods

The seasonal flooding in the state of Queensland intensified last month after monsoon rains caused rivers to spill over their banks and reach record levels. The floodwaters cover an area the size of France and Germany combined and now stretch into the state of New South Wales.

Images from CNN affiliate Seven Network Australia showed residents traveling down the streets in boats. From the sky, the tops of houses and trees poked out from seas of murky brown water. Snakes whipped about from under the water's surface.

Flooding fueled by cyclone, La Nina

Neil Roberts, Queensland minister for police, corrective services and emergency services, said Wednesday that 1,200 to 1,500 people had to be evacuated in parts of Queensland. Roberts said some residents probably can't return to their homes for at least another week.

He said the recovery could take "many months, and potentially over a year."

Roberts said the government had an emergency cabinet meeting Wednesday and appointed a major general to lead a recovery task force.

The flooding has affected the global transport of commodities such as coal and steel, as rail lines used to move such goods out of Queensland have been destroyed.

Forecasters predict even more rain in the coming days. Delgado said 20 centimeters (8 inches) could fall through Thursday.

On Tuesday, relief teams continued rushing supplies into the eastern city of Rockhampton. In some of the state's more rural areas, farmers said they were scrambling to send tons of crops out before waters damaged them and flooding made their transport impossible.

Police said 10 people have died as a result of flooding since November 30 -- many of them swept away by swift waters.

An airport in Rockhampton, a city of about 75,000 people, closed Sunday and was expected to remain closed for weeks, according to Emergency Management Queensland.

At least 200,000 people have been affected by prolonged flooding, police have said.

Police have warned residents who have been allowed to return to their homes about placing valuables outside to dry, saying some people could be tempted to take such items. Additional police have been deployed to affected communities.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has urged residents to stay away from the floodwater. On Friday, she toured the devastation and said the flooding in Queensland will cost "hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars."

Journalist Michael Best contributed to this report.