Floodwaters around St George, Queensland, Australia, February 2012. Queensland police service / AFP / Getty Images

7 February 2012 (CNN) – Australian authorities on Monday pleaded with hundreds of people who had chosen to remain in a town in the path of rising flood waters to vacate their homes.

The level of the Balonne River in the town of St. George, in the eastern state of Queensland, swelled to 13.63 meters at lunchtime on Monday, breaking its previous record, and was expected to crest overnight above 14 meters.

“We can't and won't physically drag people out of their homes,” Bob Atkinson, the Queensland police commissioner, said. “But we repeat the request for people to leave their homes.”

Queensland has been deluged with heavy rains over the past week even as some parts of the region are still struggling to recover from devastating floods that took place about a year ago.

Thirty houses in St. George have already been inundated, according to Neil Roberts, the Queensland police and emergency services minister. “We do expect this to rise as the waters head towards their peak,” he said.

The majority of St. George's roughly 3,000 residents have left the danger area, by both bus and aircraft, Roberts said.

The authorities had already been using military helicopters and a C-130 cargo plane to airlift thousands of stranded Queensland residents to safety. Hundreds of people were taking shelter in evacuation centers Monday.

Rescue workers on Sunday recovered the body of a woman who died trying to drive her pickup through flood waters, the authorities said. Jane Sheahan was swept away Friday in the town of Roma.

Witnesses told CNN affiliate Nine Network that Sheahan managed to hand off her 7-year-old son, Darcy, to a would-be rescuer before she was swept away.

The floods have already damaged hundreds of homes in Roma and another town, Mitchell, according to Roberts.

In the neighboring state of New South Wales, thousands of people remained isolated Sunday despite reports of receding floodwaters in some areas.

Australia urges residents to flee floods

Thousands of residents of the rural Queensland town of St George are waiting anxiously to see if the town's levees will hold up to a record flood.

About 3,000 of the town's residents left on Sunday after a mandatory evacuation order was issued in the biggest operation of its kind in Queensland's history.

On Monday, emergency crews scrambled to complete a 2.5-mile (4km) dirt levee around the town, 300 miles west of Brisbane. It is thought the levee will hold water from the rising Balonne river up to 14.7 metres.

The river is predicted to peak at around 14.5 metres on Tuesday, down from original forecasts of 15 metres.

The district's mayor, Donna Stewart, said she was confident the levee would hold.

"The picture is not as grim as what it was looking this time yesterday," she told the ABC. "I'm very confident that the levee bank that we've constructed at 14.7 metres will keep the water out of the major part of the town."

Residents stranded on remote properties outside the town centre were assured by Queensland premier, Anna Bligh, they would be looked after.

"Can I say to everybody who is out there, many of whom I know are isolated, that we know where you are, we haven't forgotten you, and while you may not have seen anybody yet there is air support and there are food supplies and you haven't been forgotten," she said.

A prominent member of the opposition coalition party, National's senator Barnaby Joyce, lives in St George. "It is so quiet that it's a little disturbing," he told ABC radio.

"There is something that sounds a little bit like the sea but it is not actually the sea, it's a river and it is just outside the back door." […]

Floods threaten Queensland town's levees



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