Australia – Hundreds Rescued From North Queensland Floods After 870mm of Rain in 24 Hours

Torrential rain in the wake of ex-Tropical Cyclone Jasper caused severe flooding in Far North Queensland, Australia, where emergency services, police and military have rescued hundreds of people.

View from Kuranda Range Road of flooding in the Cairns Region, Queensland, Australia, 18 December 2023. Photo: Transport and Main Roads Queensland

In statements of 17 and 18 December, 2023, Premier of Queensland Steven Miles said, “There is a serious weather emergency playing out right now in Far North Queensland as the region continues to be impacted by ex-Tropical Cyclone Jasper. There is still more rain to come.

“We have pulled together every single appropriate boat we can to safely conduct almost 300 rescues overnight on the Cairns northern beaches, including the HMAS Cairns…We are also providing support to isolated and remote communities.”

Floods damaged multiple roads in Far North Queensland, Australia, December 2023, including the Captain Cook Highway. Photo: Transport and Main Roads Queensland

Some of the worst of the flooding occurred in the town of Wujal Wujal, where several people had to take refuge on rooftops. Flooding in the town is so severe, Premier Steven Miles said all people in Wujal Wujal are safe but the whole town will need to be evacuated when weather conditions are safer to do so.

“Our emergency service workers and Far North Queenslanders have done an incredible job, we are so grateful for their work. At our request the Australian Defence Force has activated additional support for Far North Queenslanders impacted by the floods. Emergency helicopters are also being used to support emergency workers and evacuate isolated communities,” Mr Miles said.

Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese, said “the Cairns community is dealing with significant flooding after Tropical Cyclone Jasper made landfall. Our government is working closely with the Queensland government to ensure assistance is available to those who need it.”

On 17 December the Cairns Regional Council reported major flooding along the Barron River and urged residents in the Barron catchment and Machans Beach to evacuate including Machans Beach, Holloways Beach, Yorkeys Knob and surrounding areas.

Flooding along Freshwater Creek at Copperlode Falls Dam prompted authorities to request residents in Redlynch, Brinsmead, Lower Freshwater and Kamerunga, downstream of the dam, to move to higher ground.

More than 300 people have been rescued including in areas of Cooktown, Mena Creek, Mount Molloy, Machans Beach, Holloways Beach and Yorkeys Knob. Evacuations and rescues were also carried out in Mossman, Douglas, Gordonvale and Innisfail.

Water treatment plants were negatively impacted. Residents and businesses within the Cairns region were asked to use water for emergency purposes only. Some boil water notices were also issued in Bartle Frere, Woopen Creek and the Orchid Valley area. More than 14,000 properties were left without power. Cairns Airport was flooded and closed temporarily.

Torrential Rain, Flooding Rivers

On 17 December, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland said “A trough associated with ex-Tropical Cyclone Jasper produced more than 500 mm of rainfall at sites in the North Tropical Coast over the past 24 hours to 9am, in the Daintree, Mossman and Barron catchments. Subject to verification, some sites have recorded up to around 800 mm.”

Preliminary figures suggest that in a 24 hour period to early 18 December, 870 mm of rain fell in Bairds (Daintree); 832 mm in Diwan; 701 mm in Yandill; 638 mm in Myola; 637 mm in Daintree Village; 621 mm in Mossman; 389 mm in Port Douglas; and 307 mm in Cairns Airport.

River levels jumped to heights not seen in over 50 years. The Daintree and Barron rivers both far exceeded major flood stage. The Freshwater Creek at Copperlode Dam exceed the spillway by almost 3 metres.

Barron River at Mareeba, Queensland, Australia, December 2023. Image: BoM
Daintree River at Daintree Queensland, Australia, December 2023 – BoM
Freshwater Creek at Copperlode Dam, Queensland, Australia, December 2023. Image: BoM

Heavy rain from a weakened Tropical Cyclone Jasper previously caused flooding in areas of Queensland after the cyclone made landfall north of Port Douglas on 13 December 2023.

Forty thousand homes and businesses are without power. Queensland fire and emergency services said 106 people moved to evacuation centres. Twelve people were rescued from flooded areas of Mossman. Several roads were closed due to flooding or debris. A major flood warning was issued for the Barron, Daintree and Mossman rivers on 14 December.