Hundreds of thousands of cattle feared dead after Australia floods
Livestock weakened by years of drought were stranded without fodder in Queensland floods
Hundreds of thousands of cattle weakened from a severe drought are feared to have died in record-breaking floods in north-eastern Australia, authorities said on Friday as they stepped up efforts to feed surviving livestock.
Incessant rains over an almost two-week period have flooded large areas of Queensland state, with the full scale of the devastation on drought-hit cattle stations becoming clearer as floodwaters recede.
"We are expecting hundreds of thousands in terms of stock losses," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
"This will be heartbreaking to these communities that have been experiencing years of drought, only to see that turn into a torrential inundation which threatens now their very livelihoods in the complete other direction."
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk spoke on Friday of seeing a "sea of dead cattle" when she toured one region on Thursday.
"To see the cattle spread across these yards, not moving, it made you feel sick in the stomach," she told national broadcaster ABC.
Bales of hay and fuel have been transported into towns near the disaster zones and are being distributed to farmers so they can carry out airdrops to their stock.
Farmer Rachael Anderson and her husband, who manage Eddington cattle station near Julia Creek township, said 800 of their 1,500 cattle were still unaccounted for.
"The cattle didn't have anywhere else to go. We've got a railway line close to us and the whole railway line is just tangled with dead cattle," Ms Anderson said.
"If the floodwater wasn't enough to kill them, then those that got to higher areas were exposed to elements that were not conducive like rain hitting them at 60 kilometres an hour. They can't survive them long term."
Ms Anderson – who had been hand-feeding cattle over the past few months amid the crippling drought – said there were also many dead kangaroos as well as birds that were falling dead on the ground.
About half of Australia's 25-million strong cattle herd is bred in Queensland state, and graziers say the floods – described as a once-a-century event – could devastate their industry.
"This will finish a lot of people, there's some people who've lost everything, every beast they own, so there's no income at all," farmer William McMillan told the ABC.
Australia's tropical north typically experiences heavy rains during the monsoon season, but the recent downpours have seen some areas get a year's worth of rainfall in just a week.
The weather bureau said a wide arc of outback stretching some 400km from Mt Isa, a mining town, to Richmond in the east was inundated. The full scale of the disaster would not be known until the clouds cleared.
More than 1,100 people were evacuated this week after authorities opened floodgates at the Ross River Dam when the rains filled reservoirs to overflowing.
Two men died in Townsville, police said.
"Queensland desperately needed rain and now it's had way too much in some areas," said Phin Ziebell, agribusiness analyst at National Australia Bank.
"I just don't think we have enough information at this stage to determine the scale of the stock losses and what benefit that part of the country can get from a bit of pasture."
Updated: February 8, 2019 01:49 PM