Emergency refuges are being opened in north Queensland as flooding isolates towns and cuts off roads including the Bruce Highway, leaving motorists stranded.
The PCYC in Bowen opened its doors to about 80 people, 14 dogs and two cats on Sunday. Locals have pitched in, donating everything from dryers to dog beds, pizzas to impromptu gymnastics performances, with the coastal town’s motels having to turn away dozens of stuck travellers.
The Whitsunday mayor, Julie Hall, said the nearby town of Proserpine has also opened emergency accommodation on Monday.
PCYC manager sergeant Michelle O’Regan said those seeking refuge at the Bowen centre had been “inundated by care, compassion and love” from the community.
“If you’re going to be stuck, you couldn’t be stuck in a better place than Bowen,” O’Regan said.
That said, she urged people not to drive until the rains had eased.
“You can’t get help on the open highway,” she said. “The rivers rise and fall very quickly here. If you get stuck out there, you are on your own.”
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Bowen motel owner Simon Cross said he’d had one room booked on Sunday and was looking forward to a quiet day when he went to work that morning.
“Yesterday was mayhem,” he said on Monday. “All channels were firing off. Booking.com was trying to jump into the space I was filling out, I had a row of cars going across the street and a row of people in front of me outside.”
Cross said the stranded were a cross-section of the community, including a returning “boys trip” from Airlie Beach and “southerners” returning from school holidays. An entire Townsville gridiron team was also stuck in town.
Hall said the water would subside quickly once the rain eased, but with torrential falls predicted over coming days people could be stuck for some time yet.
Emergency services warned drivers in central and northern Queensland of life-threatening flash flooding possible in the next 24 hours on Monday as heavy rain pummels the region after a weekend of wild weather.
The Bureau of Meteorology said six-hour rainfall totals of up to 180mm are likely in Mackay, Proserpine, Bowen, Collinsville, Hamilton Island and Ayr on Monday.
However, the coast and ranges north of Mackay could be pummelled by between 250mm and 400mm in the next 24 hours.
Meanwhile, three women who were rescued after becoming stranded in flood waters north of Mackay are recovering from the ordeal.
The women are being treated at Proserpine hospital after they were found clinging to a tree in Palm Grove on Sunday afternoon.
But many residents remain unfazed by what some are calling the “first good rinse of the wet”.
The Grand Central Hotel Proserpine’s publican, Lucy Hayes, said hers was mainly a watering hole for locals and so it was “business as usual”.
“Well it’s the wet season mate, welcome to Proserpine,” she said. “If you’re not used to it, don’t live here.”
She said her punters were playing pool and waiting for a break in the weather.
“It’ll all run off pretty quick,” Hayes said. “And it’ll be good crabbing and prawning and after that.”