Far North Queensland floods: Tragic deaths discovered as waters lower and supermarkets run empty

Prime Minister Scott Morrison today visited the hardest-hit areas of Townsville to witness the damages first-hand. (AAP)

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TOWNSVILLE, Feb 5, 2019, 9News. As Far North Queensland flood waters slowly began to lower, the region was struck by two tragic deaths on the same day the Prime Minister witnessed the damage first-hand and supermarkets went bare. Luke Cooper specially for the 9News.

Following another restless night in Townsville, the capacity of the Ross River dam has reduced to 196 per cent – down from 247 per cent at the floods’ peak.

The discovery of two bodies in an Aitkenvale storm water drain spelt tragedy for the worst inundation disaster in living memory.

Authorities located the bodies downstream from the storm water run-off before midday.

“We don’t want to see anyone lose their life. If we’ve lost one through misadventure, that would be very sad,” Queensland Police superintendent Steve Munro said.

The discovery came after a search was launched for Hughie Morton, 21, and Troy Mathieson, 23, who were allegedly last seen yesterday running away from a Dan Murphy’s bottle shop they were trying to rob.

It was feared they tried to cross a fast-moving creek during their alleged escape, with some saying they saw the men being sucked into a drain.

There has been no confirmation the two bodies located this afternoon are those of Mr Morton and Mr Mathieson. Police are also yet to formally identify the two bodies.

Meanwhile, the streets of Townsville and its surrounding suburbs either remained entirely underwater, or left sodden as the floods began to recede, trawled by members of the Army and emergency services.

Among them was Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said his tour of the significantly damaged areas had been confronting, but praised emergency personnel.

“As the waters recede here and we start to move from the response phase to the recovery phase, there will be big shocks for the community as we’ve seen this morning as they return to their homes, as they assess the damage to their homes,” he said.

“Yes, there’s the physical loss but there is also the mental shock and just coming to terms with it.

“To hear the stories of how people were evacuated in the middle of the night … floodwaters, dark, kids… the fact that people are safe today in Townsville I think is an extraordinary achievement.”

As today marked day 11 of the disaster, shelves in supermarkets – both in Townsville and other areas such as Bowen and Cairns that are hurriedly preparing for more wild weather – went empty.

With thousands of people still left stranded in emergency shelters and alternative accommodation, and freight produce routes cut off by rising water, the situation today was dire.

Despite that, Australian supermarket giant Woolworths chartered two planes to fly 40 tonnes of food and essential items to severely flood-affected areas.

“We focus on essential items, so produce, meat, flour to make bread, baby formula and nappies and the like – just the essential things to keep the community stocked,” John O’Dea, North Queensland Woolworths Supermarkets group manager told 9News.

The planes were flown into Cairns and Townsville, with the stock immediately transported to areas where supermarket shelves have been going bare due to a high demand from in-need customers.

On top of that, a convoy of food trucks that had been held up in Bowen today rolled into Mackay, and an extra 300 tonne of necessities from both Woolworths and Coles will be brought Townsville tomorrow.

Ahead of that, however, residents across Far North Queensland are still on alert for the potential of more devastation to come before the end of the week.

Queensland BoM acting state manager Richard Wardle today told reporters warnings are still in place ahead of another high chance of heavy rain to come.

“We expect this active monsoon to remain active for coming days, potentially easing over the weekend,” he said.

“We’re expecting further periods of heavy rainfall, some of it very heavy, about the north-east tropics for the next few days between about Cardwell and Mackay.

“With that, there is the real elevated risk of flash flooding. We saw that last night up at Blue Water Creek, getting 349mm to 9am this morning.”

Mr Wardle said multiple Severe Weather Warnings are still in place for Far North Queensland for the potential of flash flooding despite the gradual lowering of river water levels.

“Six hourly totals between 150mm and 200mm are possible and concentrated areas of intense rainfall with totals of up to 300mm are also possible with bands of thunderstorms,” he said.

“Because of this dynamic monsoon, we see the flood risk continuing for the remainder of the week and into next week, particularly for those larger river systems.”

Tonight those warnings remain in place for Mackay, Townsville, Bowen, Ayr, Palm Island, Rollingstone, Proserpine, Collinsville, the Whitsunday Islands, and Sarina.

The message from Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was also clear – local residents need to be patient, because urgent recovery work is being done.

“As soon as the water does start going down, we’re ready to go,” she told reporters today.

“We want to see the roads open as quick as possible. We want the children back into the schools, we want to make sure that the power gets connected as soon as possible and also that the phone towers get restored.

“We cannot do any of these things until it is ready to do so.

“The weather system is going to hang around the north and north-west of our state… We’ve had people working around the clock.”

The Premier also said power has returned to about 6000 homes and almost 9000 residents have applied for personal hardship grants, particularly amid looming livestock losses linked to the wild weather.

For now though, Townsville, Bowen and the areas in between both cities remain on-edge ahead of a clean-up operation that could span weeks, if not months.

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