Rain-battered Australian state on snake alert

February 4, 2009 7:15:49 AM PST
Rain-battered residents in northeastern Australia were on alert Wednesday for snakes in their bathrooms and crocodiles in the road following repeated storms that have sent local wildlife in search of dry land or a safe haven. More than half of Queensland state was declared a disaster area Tuesday because of the rains that started in late December and are expected to continue.

In Queensland's hardest-hit town of Ingham, David Harkin was preparing Wednesday to evacuate after watching floods wash through his two-level home. He said he's seen several snakes around his home since the latest storm hit Sunday.

"That's why I keep the broom here (at the front door) to chase the snakes away," he told reporters. Some 2,900 homes have been damaged in Ingham and hundreds of people evacuated to a temporary shelter.

In the coastal city of Townsville, floods were blamed for washing a freshwater crocodile into the street - where it got run over.

The 5.25-foot-long (1.6-meter-long) crocodile survived and was being treated for an injured eye and several broken teeth, the Townsville Bulletin newspaper reported Wednesday.

Wildlife Carers volunteer Lana Allcroft said the service had been overwhelmed with injured and displaced animals since the floods began.

"A lady rang up this morning and said she had a snake in her bathroom. I said, 'Well, I've got a crocodile in mine,'" Allcroft told the newspaper. "We've had wallabies, curlews, snakes and flying foxes, and that's just this morning." A curlew is a kind of bird.

After weeks of storms that have submerged parts of Queensland, the area was battered again Sunday when a tropical storm landed. More rain is forecast this week, including a possible cyclone.

The Queensland Environmental Protection Agency has warned residents to watch out for wildlife on roads and in their yards.

"Crocodiles might move about looking for a quiet place to wait for floodwaters to recede and snakes may swim into peoples' properties," Environmental Protection Agency project officer Brian Wright said after the late January floods.

Deputy Premier Paul Lucas, who visited Ingham on Wednesday, said he didn't believe the ground could cope with more rain.

"It's like pouring water over a wet towel," Lucas said.

Ingham had received 14.41 inches (366 millimeters) of rain in 24 hours Wednesday morning, on top of more than 15.75 inches (400 millimeters) dumped in the previous days.

The state government said Tuesday that the storms had caused an estimated 109 million Australian dollars ($69.5 million) in damage since late December and that more than 56 percent of the state - 376,755 square miles (975,794 square kilometers) - is eligible for disaster relief. About 17 rivers are flooded and dams are overflowing.

Some coastal areas are completely cut off by flooding and authorities fear the stagnant water could worsen an outbreak of dengue fever.

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