- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 4, 2011

ROCKHAMPTON, Australia | Floods that have cut air, rail and road links to an Australian coastal city are threatening its sewage plant, and waters are expected to rise another few feet before peaking Wednesday.

Residents of Rockhampton made their way in boats through waters that reached waist high in some areas Tuesday but were warned not to wade into the them because snakes and crocodiles could be lurking.

A huge inland sea spawned by more than a week of heavy rain across Queensland state is making its way along the Fitzroy River toward the ocean — and Rockhampton lies in the way. As waters drain, the city of 75,000 people is expected to see flood levels rise another few feet by Wednesday.

The river already has burst its banks, inundating houses and businesses in waters ranging from a few inches to waist deep. Up to 500 people who live along the river have evacuated their homes. Air and rail links to the city were cut, and only one main road remained open.

Rockhampton Mayor Brad Carter said Tuesday that large swaths of the city might be underwater for another two weeks.

Adding to the woes, Mr. Carter said Tuesday that the floodwaters were threatening Rockhampton’s sewage treatment plants and officials may seek to discharge some effluent directly into the swollen river system. He said this would only occur away from the city and that the discharged sewage would be highly diluted and would not pose a health risk.

Rockhampton is the latest of 22 cities and towns in Queensland to be swamped by floods that began building just before Christmas — the worst effects of an unusually wet summer in the tropical region.

No one has died in Rockhampton, but swollen rivers and flooding have killed 10 people in Queensland since late November, police say.

Officials have said the flooded area covers the size of France and Germany combined and 200,000 people have been affected. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sent a condolence message and said Washington was ready to help if needed.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by these floods, especially the families of the victims, and with all the people of Australia,” Mrs. Clinton said in a statement distributed by consular officials.

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