Flooding at the Gold Coast suburb of Southport, where heavy rain fell overnight.
Flooding at the Gold Coast suburb of Southport, where heavy rain fell overnight.

‘Very dangerous’ thunderstorm wreaks havoc

Queenslanders have experienced some of the heaviest rain Australia has seen in months, while thousands of people on New South Wales' south coast remain without power and evacuees in Victoria were unsure whether their homes survived another night of fires.

In Queensland's southeast, roads have been cut off, theme parks have closed and residents have taken to travelling the flooded streets by boat after a month's worth of rain fell in parts overnight.

More than 100 millimetres of rain fell in many locations across south-east Queensland overnight and early this morning. More severe storms were expected today and tonight.

New warnings have also been issued for severe thunderstorms developing over northern Cape York Peninsula.

A flood watch has also been issued for the Orara and Bellinger Rivers in NSW. Some parts of eastern and northern NSW got more than 200mm of rain.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Kimba Wong said that the thunderstorms were a "one-in-100-year event".

"The highest total that we have recorded is 330 millimetres at Loder Creek on the Gold Coast, so some very heavy rainfall there," Ms Wong told ABC.

"We did have an emergency warning in place for that rainfall because we had some reports of flash flooding in some locations and in some locations it was a one-in-100-year event."

Queensland and New South Wales are revelling in the much-needed downpour - which has helped to ease conditions in some NSW fire grounds and provided relief to drought-stricken areas.

However, more than 2,000 homes remain without power in the state's south coast region after months of fires have devastated the area.

And in Victoria, the wet weather has done little to ease the fire threat.

Residents in the state's northeast endured an anxious wait overnight after they were evacuated from their homes once again.

Data from Google has revealed that the nation's bushfire crisis has captured the attention of Australians more than any other news event in the past decade.

The analysis captures what Australians have been asking the platform from January 1, 2010 until December 31, 2019. Searches relating to the blazes that have devastated the country since October have eclipsed the 2018 wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the downing of flight MH370 and the 2016 US presidential election.

Anna Freeland, the trends data curator at Google Australia, told ABC that search interest in bushfires had increased more than 500 per cent over the past three months, compared to usual monthly thresholds.

Last year, people searched the phrase "fires near me" 11 times more than "how to vote".

International interest in Australia also spiked in the first week of 2020, soaring by 340 per cent compared to usual levels.

"Things like, 'How many animals died in Australia fire?' and 'How to help Australia fires' as well as queries about bushfire appeals were the most trending questions in the past month," Ms Freeland said.

"When you look at the top related search terms, it's clear that people are looking not just for emergency information and news, but ways to help."

QUEENSLAND

The Bureau of Meteorology have lifted the severe weather warnings in Queensland's southeast, but have warned that more rainfall and thunderstorms are yet to come.

The slow-moving cell is now impacting northern NSW and starting to move offshore.

Queensland Police have reported that the Cunningham Highway and M1 have reopened after being cut by floodwaters for six hours, while theme parks remain underwater and residents are flooded in after up to 300mm of torrential rain bucketed down on the state overnight.

A severe storm warning was issued by BOM after intense rainfall from a mega cell lashed the state, extending from the Sunshine Coast down to the Gold Coast.

The heavy rain caused "dangerous and life-threatening" flash flooding on major roads as it fell overnight, a BOM spokesman said.

In some parts of the region, where in excess of 200mm fell, the average January rainfall was doubled in one night.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services have advised people to seek shelter, beware of fallen trees and powerlines and not to risk travelling through flooded areas.

Two people were stranded after trying to drive through floodwater on the coast, and police have received more than 50 reports of flooded roads across the region on Saturday morning.

The SES have responded to more than 100 call-outs on the Gold Coast alone, with another 60 between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast.

Gold Coast theme parks MovieWorld, Wet n Wild, Dreamworld and WhiteWater World were closed on Saturday due to severe flooding.

NEW SOUTH WALES

The thunderstorm that caused flooding in Queensland overnight is moving toward northern New South Wales, with the Bureau of Meteorology issuing a severe thunderstorm warning for the state's north.

That warning was revised at 1.10pm, but the BOM warned: "Be aware that run-off from rainfall in fire affected areas may behave differently and be more rapid. It may also contain debris such as ash, soil, trees and rocks.

"Trees that have been damaged by fire are likely to be more unstable and more likely to fall."

A man in Murwillumbah near Tweed Heads had to be rescued by the SES after his vehicle became swamped in a carpark when flood waters rose rapidly.

Rain has poured in drought-ravaged parts of the state's north, with more heavy falls and thunderstorms expected to hit parts of NSW over the weekend.

In the town of Bundarra, 105mm fell in 24 hours, and Moree, 51mm fell - the town's best rainfall since March 2017.

Farmers in QLD and NSW have been overjoyed by the wet weather, but there are warnings it may not be enough.

There's a potential for elevated fire danger later in the week with warm weather forecast, BOM said.

As of Saturday, 75 fires continue to burn, down from well over 100 a few days earlier.

"Rain continues to fall across a number of fire grounds," the NSW Rural Fire Service Said, adding that "benign conditions" of rain and cooler temperatures were helping efforts to contain the remaining blazes.

And in the state's south coast region, Essential Energy says there are still 2,400 homes without power, calling the damage to the area "unprecedented".

The company have estimated 1,500 power poles will need to be rebuilt in the region.

Thousands of homes remain in the dark on NSW's south coast. Picture: Essential Energy
Thousands of homes remain in the dark on NSW's south coast. Picture: Essential Energy

While the threat of bushfires may be over in some areas, SES Assistant Commissioner Paul Bailey warned residents to be careful of falling trees.

"Those trees that have already been weakened by the fire will be further weakened by the train," Mr Bailey said.

He added that there were also concerns of flash flooding "because there is no vegetation to collect the water".

Bushland is seen burnt by fire as rain pools in large puddles at Bilpin, in the Blue Mountains. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
Bushland is seen burnt by fire as rain pools in large puddles at Bilpin, in the Blue Mountains. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

Meanwhile, a family have come up with an easy way to help wildlife in the state whose homes have been affected by months of devastating bushfires.

Allen Flood, along with his partner and three children, visited Diamond Beach this week to leave fruit out for the kangaroos, possums and other animals in bushland around the area.

It was Allen’s son’s idea to leave fruit out for the animals whose habitats were affected by the area’s October bushfires. Picture: Allen Flood
It was Allen’s son’s idea to leave fruit out for the animals whose habitats were affected by the area’s October bushfires. Picture: Allen Flood

The family were holidaying in the area, 15 minutes north of Foster on the state's mid-north coast, in October, when fires forced the family to gather on the beach for safety after blazes tore through the bush 100 metres from where they were staying.

"We went back up there this week, and that's when my son, who's eight, came up with the idea to leave fruit out for the animals affected by the fires," Mr Flood told news.com.au.

"He heard on the TV once, or on YouTube, that a good idea was dicing it up and putting it on coathangers and wrapping it around the tree."

Allen and his family were excited to see greenery starting to return to the Diamond Beach area. Picture: Allen Flood
Allen and his family were excited to see greenery starting to return to the Diamond Beach area. Picture: Allen Flood

Mr Flood said his family couldn't believe how green the area was, and that his kids loved seeing the animals - from kangaroos and echidnas to possums and birdlife - starting to return to their home.

This season's bushfires have "rewritten the rule book", with ecologists fearing more than 80 per cent of the world heritage-listed Blue Mountains have been lost.

The iconic national park has been impacted by the Green Wattle Creek blaze, the Grose Valley fire and the Gospers Mountain blaze for months.

The bushfires have destroyed more 837,000 hectares of land since October last year - which is more than 80 per cent of the protected area.

"It's huge," University of Sydney environmental sciences lecturer Aaron Greenville told AAP.

"It's almost like the rule book has been rewritten after these fires."

Given the bushfires ravaged much of the state's coastline, wildlife seeking refuge from the Blue Mountains blazes would have had nowhere to go, he said.

VICTORIA

Victorian firefighters will use the change of weather to their advantage over the weekend by attempting to combat the blazes still burning across the state.

While parts of Australia's east are soaking in some much-needed rainfall, residents in a remote area of Victoria's Alpine Region faced an anxious wait overnight after an "evacuate now" warning was issued Friday night.

Most of the fires ripping through the state, predominantly in East Gippsland and the northeastern alpine region, were burning at a "watch and act" level or low, but emergency warnings were issued for fires near Mount Buffalo in Victoria's alpine region, and briefly for Bulart, in the state's southwest.

The emergency warning for an out-of-control grass fire at Bulart was downgraded to a "watch and act" alert early on Saturday morning.

However, residents there and at nearby Cavendish, Gatum and Melville Forest were warned to stay close to a building so they could shelter if conditions changed.

"If you don't feel safe, don't wait, leaving now is the safest option - conditions may change and get worse very quickly," a warning issued on Saturday read.

"Emergency services may not be able to help you if you decide to stay."

An evacuation order was earlier issued for the blaze near Mount Buffalo.

Residents living in Buffalo Creek, Merriang and Merriang South were told strong and erratic winds had significantly increased fire activity near them, and it was recommended they evacuate.

Authorities have warned that people need to remain vigilant within their environments.

Smoke from the deadly fires is expected to blanket Melbourne once again this weekend.

The warning came as a registration service has been established for people who fled Mallacoota, Genoa and Gipsy Point and want to return now conditions have improved.

When it is safe to do so, emergency services and the Australian Defence Force will begin flights or escorted road transport into Mallacoota and surrounds, Victoria Police have confirmed.

Mallacoota evacuees arriving in Melbourne on January 8. Picture: Luis Ascui/Getty Images
Mallacoota evacuees arriving in Melbourne on January 8. Picture: Luis Ascui/Getty Images

Incident management specialists from the US and Canada are set to arrive at Melbourne Airport on Saturday morning, ahead of being deployed to fires in the northeast and East Gippsland.

A contingent from the Fiji Military Force will also arrive in Melbourne on Saturday afternoon to start induction training before being deployed to East Gippsland, where a group from the Papua New Guinea Defence Force is already at work.

- With AAP

20mls this afternoon. Would love to know what they got upstream! 20kms out of Bingara nsw This creek was dry only a few hours ago

Posted by Kylie Walton on Wednesday, 15 January 2020
The family took the bushland around their accommodation to leave fruit for the animals. Picture: Allen Flood
The family took the bushland around their accommodation to leave fruit for the animals. Picture: Allen Flood


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