Sunday, January 16, 2011

Death tolls climb and more floods are on the way

Kathy Marks in the Independent (UK): The suffering in the southern hemisphere grinds on. Torrential rain triggered fresh flood warnings in four Australian states yesterday just as the clean-up began in the Queensland capital, Brisbane. Meanwhile, 10 more people were reported dead in Sri Lanka's floods, and in Brazil the death toll from floods and mudslides is now rising inexorably towards, and possibly beyond, 600.

Uncommonly heavy rainfall – Sri Lanka's hardest-hit area, the eastern port of Batticaloa, has had more rain in the past two weeks than its annual average – has saturated several parts of the southern hemisphere. Meteorologists have linked the floods in Australia and Sri Lanka with an unusually strong La Niña weather cycle, which has also been blamed for the current drought in Argentina.

In Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology has also linked the current heavy rains in Queensland to La Niña, and said that 2010 was the third wettest year on record as a result. The miseries of Brazil, where much the largest loss of life due to flooding has occurred, are however not linked to the weather cycle. In fact, according to the Met Office, the country should be drier than usual.

The muddy waters that engulfed much of Brisbane last week had largely receded by yesterday, giving locals the chance to start cleaning up. On what the city's mayor, Campbell Newman, dubbed "Salvation Saturday", thousands of volunteers joined military personnel to shovel, mop and sweep away the thick, foul-smelling sludge left behind when the Brisbane River dropped.

The city's worst floods for more than a century had been forecast for Thursday morning, when the river was scheduled to reach its peak. While that prediction was not borne out – in the event, they were the worst since 1974 – scores of residential neighbourhoods were inundated, along with a large chunk of the city centre.

…While Brisbane dodged a bullet, the floods – Queensland's worst natural disaster – are not over yet. Vast swathes of the state remain inundated, and meteorologists warn that, with two months of the wet season left in northern Australia, and the effects of La Niña more pronounced, further serious flooding is a real possibility….

Caravan floating in the flooded Ipswich in Gailes, Queensland, shot by Martin Howard, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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