The north Queensland town of Ingham is expected to be isolated by floodwaters until later tonight, as Cyclone Ita continues to head away from the coast.
The systemwas downgraded to a tropical low yesterday evening, and is moving out to sea.
The Bruce Highway remains closed north and south of Ingham, which was cut in half yesterday afternoon when the Herbert River reached its peak of more than 12 metres.
Premier Campbell Newman has flown to visit the flood-stricken town and assess the damage.
Mr Newman says the flooding is worse than he expected, and the economic impact will be felt for months to come, with many surrounding farms damaged by wind and rain.
Weather bureau spokesman Ken Kato says Cyclone Ita will gradually weaken.
“We’re still expecting some strong winds, rough seas and patchy rain or showers along the coast south of the central coast over the next couple of days, before easing by mid-week,” he said.
The State Government says it may consider improving infrastructure in Ingham to make the town more resistant to floods.
Hinchinbrook Shire Mayor Rodger Bow says floodwaters are receding slower than first thought and it might take another 10 hours before residents can start moving around.
Councillor Bow says many roads will remain closed for most of the day.
“If it still gradually goes down, we’re probably looking at late this afternoon before [the] Main Roads [Department] will be able to get in and inspect their bridges and their roads to officially open the road,” he said.
“But if it goes down rather rapidly, then that time frame will narrow down.”
Councillor Bow says he is disappointed residents have been ignoring warnings not to walk in floodwaters.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you say it, there are still people out there who risk their lives and those of rescuers just because they don’t listen to advice from authorities,” he said.
Cyclone hits agriculture sector hardest
Queensland Community Recovery Minister David Crisafulli says the agricultural sector has been the hardest hit by Cyclone Ita.
Mr Crisafulli toured farms in north Queensland today to inspect the damage, with .
He says there has been extensive damage to tomato crops.
Tomato farmer Wayne Born says his crops have been left water-logged and vital infrastructure has been ripped apart by gale force winds.
“To come over and see all this plastic I was going to plant tomatoes in, and all the waste of money, it’s just devastating,” he said.
Growers say it is too early to put a final dollar figure on the damage and they warn the price of tomatoes could go up.
Mr Crisafulli says assistance grants will be made available to farmers.
“It appears in terms of agriculture there are some real challenges and we’re getting reports of small crops in Bowen and sugar in Ingham that have copped an absolute pasting,” he said.
“We’ll know more about that in the hours and days ahead.”
Disaster recovery payments available
Meanwhile, Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan says a disaster recovery payment is available to residents in the Hope Vale region on Cape York Peninsula, north of Cairns, who have suffered a loss of income from the cyclone.
He says it is the equivalent of the Newstart allowance.
“It is designed to support employees, primary producers, and sole traders by giving them a stable source of income while the affected communities get back on their feet,” he said.
“It’s also designed to support the local workforce in a regional area and support longer term and economic recovery.”
A Department of Communities disaster recovery team is now on the ground in Cooktown, north of Cairns, to help people access financial assistance.
The department’s executive director for the far north, Michael Linnan, says only people in Cooktown, Laura, Hope Vale and Wujal Wujal are eligible.
He says the team will begin doorknocking residents in those areas from today.
“If you’re eligible for the personal hardship scheme, you may receive $180 per person or up to $900 for a family of five or more,” he said.
“That’s only eligible for the first seven days of the event because it’s really for emergent needs.”
Mr Linnan says people in less affected areas can still contact the department to find out if they are eligible.
“Anyone in the region can have a talk to our staff and see if they are eligible for any assistance,” he said.