Gillard promises hundreds of millions after Bundaberg tour
LATEST: Prime Minister Julia Gillard has promised $1 million for Queensland's flood relief appeal, and pledged the government will invest hundreds of millions more to rebuild Bundaberg and other flood-affected regions.
Ms Gillard spent the day touring Bundaberg, Bargara and Burnett Heads, where she met with people who's homes had been hit by tornadoes.
She said the tornadoes had come as a complete surprise to locals, who had just been going about their ordinary lives before it destroyed their homes in a matter of seconds.
"We have had an amazing day, an amazing experience, whether it has been talking to Terri at the evacuation centre, who lost her house, but just wanted to tell me what a great job the Red Cross volunteers were doing," she said.
"Whether it has been at Bargara, seeing the bowling club that was literally ripped apart in a 10-second tornado.
"Right around we have seen some remarkable sights."
Ms Gillard dodged questions on Craig Thomson's arrest today, saying she did not know any details surrounding the arrest apart from what she had seen in the media.
She said she was there for the people of Bundaberg to see firsthand what they were going through.
Premier Campbell Newman has estimated the flood damage bill at $2.4 billion - more than that of the 2011 disaster.
Treasurer Wayne Swan, who enjoyed the PM in Bundaberg, said it was too early to estimate the damage given so much country was still under water.
He also refused to be drawn on a flood levy, saying now was not the time to be discussing it.
Primary producers and small businesses in the local government areas of Bundaberg, Banana, Fraser Coast, Gladstone, Gold Coast, Gympie, Ipswich, Lockyer Valley, Logan City, Moreton Bay, North Burnett, Redland, Rockhampton, Scenic Rim, Somerset, South Burnett, Southern Downs, Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba and Western Downs will be able to apply for concessional loans under the jointly funded Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.
Concessional loans up to $250,000 can assist re-establish primary production enterprises by covering costs such as repairing or replacing damaged plant and equipment, repairing or replacing buildings, purchasing livestock to replace those lost in the disaster event and re-planting, restoring or re-establishing areas affected by the disaster event.
For small business, these loans can be used purposes such as repairing or replacing damaged plant and equipment, repairing or replacing buildings, supplying stock for up to one month to replace lost stock and maintain liquidity of the business.
Primary producers in these areas will also be eligible to apply for freight subsidies.
Small businesses in the Brisbane City Local Government Area are also able to apply for concessional loans
Personal Hardship and Distress payments for food, clothing, accommodation and medical supplies of $180 for individuals and $900 for couples/families is now also available in the Goondiwindi local government area.
UPDATE 6.30pm: Flooding continues to ease throughout the Burnett Catchment.
Minor flood levels at Bundaberg are forecast to continue easing overnight Thursday.
Boyne and Auburn Rivers and Barambah and Barker Creeks:
Minor to moderate flood levels continue to ease across the Boyne and Auburn Rivers, and in Barker and Barambah Creeks.
Burnett River Gayndah to Walla:
Minor to moderate flood levels along the Burnett River between Mt Lawless and Walla are expected to continue easing overnight Thursday.
River levels in the Burnett River at Bundaberg have fallen to 4.9 metres at 10am Thursday. River levels are forecast to continue easing overnight Thursday.
Three Moon Creek at Cania Dam - 0.13m steady
Three Moon Creek at Monto - 2.23m falling
Burnett River at Ceratodus - 4.06m falling
Burnett River at Marriages - 1.83 rising
Boyne River at Boondooma Dam - 0.73m falling
Burnett River at Mundubbera - 6.2m falling
Burnett River at Gayndah Flume - 4.46 falling
Barker Creek at Bjelke-Petersen Dam - 0.95m steady
Barambah Creek at Ficks Crossing - 4.13m falling
Barambah Creek at Ban Ban - 4.13m falling
Burnett River at Mt Lawless - 5.18m rising
Burnett River at Walla TM - 9.52m falling
Burnett River at Bundaberg - 4.9m falling slowly
1.30PM UPDATE: Prime Minister Julia Gillard took a drive out to Burnett Heads to inspect the homes damaged in the weekend tornadoes.
Crowds of residents gathered around one home which had its roof torn off.
Ms Gillard spoke with young children who spoke of their excitement about going back to their school, which will reopen on Monday.
The entourage is now headed for Bargara Bowls Club.
11.30AM UPDATE: Julia Gillard has been doing a tour of the evacuation centre the Bundaberg Civic Centre.
She will head to North Bundaberg today to check on the devastation the region has suffered.
She has been speaking to evacuees and sharing much-needed laughter with them.
10.30AM UPDATE: Premier Campbell Newman and Prime Minister Julia Gillard have arrived in the city and Campbell Newman has announced that Deputy Police Commissioner Brett Pointing will lead the flood recovery effort in Queensland.
It is believed that up to 20 homes in the region have been completely destroyed in the flooding disaster.
The visit comes a day after Ms Gillard called a September election, shocking some of her own MPs.
Meanwhile, the Army is going house to house in North Bundaberg, where an exclusion zone has been set up, conducting a search and rescue operation.
Authorities are pleading with people to stay out of the exclusion zone.
"We've got police in the area to enforce that. We just don't know what the situation is there but we do know there's quite extensive damage in the area,'' a disaster official told the ABC.
"It's not a safe place to be so we're seeking peoples' cooperation not to be in that area."
Ms Gillard is expected to announce disaster funding when she visits.
Premier says damage to Bundaberg and Burnett is extensive
Speaking on the appointment of Deputy Police Commissioner Brett Pointing as the leader of the disaster recovery effort across the state, Premier Campbell Newman said it would be no easy task, but Queenslanders were resilient.
"The floods we have seen throughout the state may have torn down the infrastructure of communities but it hasn't broken Queenslanders' spirit," he said.
"It will be a massive job rebuilding homes, businesses, roads, bridges and essential services and that's why I have appointed DC Pointing to lead the recovery process as a full time problem solver and strategic leader."
Mr Newman said DC Pointing's role would be to ensure Government and non-Government agencies at all levels were delivering a cohesive recovery and reconstruction program.
"DC Pointing will work with the community to ensure the recovery efforts are co-ordinated so people and businesses can get back on their feet and life can return to normal as soon as possible," he said.
"It's going to be a tough task, but with all levels of government and every member of the community working together and supporting each other, we will get through this."
Mr Newman said DC Pointing had strong credentials for the job, working as a police officer in both regional and metropolitan Queensland for 30 years rising in the ranks to serve as Rockhampton's District Inspector, the Gold Coast's District Officer, Assistant Commissioner and more recently as Deputy Commissioner.
"DC Pointing has had leadership roles during disasters in the past as the District Disaster Co-ordinator for both the Gold Coast and Brisbane," he said.
"During the 2010-11 disasters, DC Pointing was appointed Executive Officer to the State Disaster Coordination Group and played a pivotal role in co-ordinating the police response."
Mr Pointing said he was honoured to take on this role which was both a great challenge and a great privilege.
"I'm looking forward to meeting with locals in affected areas to get a comprehensive understanding of their issues and to rapidly determine what needs to be done and in what order to rebuild the community as quickly as possible," he said.
Mr Newman said there was a long rebuilding process ahead, but Queenslanders were up to the challenge.
"Only two years ago, Queenslanders were faced with a seemingly insurmountable task when disasters struck but showed steely determination to get back on their feet," he said.
"Working together again, we will rebuild this state."
Latest river levels below
Burnett River to Gayndah:
Minor flood levels continue to ease in the upper Burnett River between Abercorn and Mundubbera.
Boyne and Auburn Rivers and Barambah and Barker Creeks:
River levels continue to ease across the Boyne and Auburn Rivers, and in Barker and Barambah Creeks.
Burnett River Gayndah to Walla:
Moderate to major flood levels along the Burnett River between Mt Lawless and Walla are expected to continue easing during Thursday.
River levels in the Burnett River at Bundaberg have fallen to 5.6 metres at 6am Thursday and will continue to ease during Thursday.
Predicted River Heights/Flows:
Walla: Moderate flood levels will continue falling during Thursday.
Three Moon Creek at Cania Dam - 0.19m steady
Three Moon Creek at Monto - 2.38m falling
Burnett River at Ceratodus - 4.39m falling
Burnett River at Marriages - 2.12 rising
Boyne River at Boondooma Dam - 0.86m steady
Burnett River at Mundubbera - 7m falling
Burnett River at Gayndah Flume - 4.93 falling
Barker Creek at Bjelke-Petersen Dam - 1.08m steady
Barambah Creek at Ficks Crossing - 6.7m falling
Barambah Creek at Ban Ban - 4.37m falling
Burnett River at Mt Lawless - 5.56m falling
Burnett River at Walla TM - 10.26m steady
Burnett River at Bundaberg - 5.3m falling slowly
EARLIER: With Bundaberg and surrounding regions in desperate need of assistance, the cavalry has arrived.
More than 200 army soldiers arrived in Bundaberg in convoy last night, part of a military Emergency Support Force (ESF) that will help Queensland Emergency Management and local authorities get Bundaberg back on its feet.
With the enormous task ahead, Major Patrick O'Neill, who has been in Bundaberg for two days preparing for the operation, said he was "very confident" in the plans he and the council had put in place.
"We will be working with council and Urban Search and Rescue to help out the best way we can," he said.
The convoy of 61 vehicles left Brisbane at 8am yesterday carrying basic supplies such as chainsaws, generators and plant equipment to help with the clean-up.
"We will also have a tradies' group of two carpenters, a plumber and an electrician," Maj O'Neill said.
He said the convoy splintered off into smaller groups, with a team of 15-20 heading off to help residents in Burrum Heads.
"There are engineers and soldiers who can provide much-needed assistance," he said.
"Engineer crews are on their way to Mundubbera."
Maj O'Neill said his staff was made up of experienced individuals.
"A lot of the soldiers were there in the 2010 floods," he said.
Maj O'Neill said the plan was to help people resume their lives.
"We won't be forcing our way onto people's property. People will have to sign a form to let us in their backyard," he said.
Maj O'Neill said they would wait for the water to subside before running a safety assessment on each area before proceeding.
At this early stage, he could not give a time frame for how long the recovery would take or how long the soldiers would remain in Bundaberg.
The soldiers will be based at both Salter Oval and the Barracks in Quay St.