Flooding

In the Cairns region, flooding is sometimes confused with the storm tide surge that can accompany cyclones. Although a storm tide surge can contribute to flooding, flooding can also happen as part of a cyclone without a storm tide or during a severe storm or at times of heavy rain.  You may live in a storm tide surge zone but not a flood-prone area and vice versa.

Rather than the slow onset flooding which affects other parts of Queensland, in the Cairns region we experience flash flooding. There may be little warning –  water levels can rise surprisingly fast in drains, creeks and rivers.  Local flooding may occur, where some suburbs flood while others nearby do not. 

The rain may not have been heavy in our region but in the Tablelands, causing rivers to swell and carry large volumes of water downward towards Cairns. Water levels may also be heightened by high tides happening  around the same time.

What will happen?

The Bureau of Meteorology will issue a flood watch or similar advice of possible flooding, if flood- producing rain is expected in the near future. General weather forecasts may also refer to flood –producing rain.

  • A flood warning is issuedwhen flooding is occurring or expected to occur in a particular area. When flash flooding is expected, a severe weather warningis issued.
  • There will be warnings for locations likely to be affected through broadcast media, council’s websites or directly within communities by street announcements and door knocking.  The emergency alert system or SEWS (State Emergency Warning System) may also be used,
  • Drains, creeks or rivers which have had little or no water flow in previous months may fill rapidly with fast-flowing water, which can spread to houses and streets.  The height of the water may not have been seen in the same location before.
  • You may not be able to get in or out of the house or street if it is affected by flooding.

What should I do?

  • Check the information on the Bureau of Meteorology and local emergency services websites and listen for flooding information.
  • Contact the Cairns local disaster management unit if the information doesn't seem relevant to where you live, but you are concerned.
  • Unplug electrical equipment such as TVs and computers to avoid damage caused by power surges. Move household items to a higher place (eg on a bed or table or upstairs).  This is especially important for electrical items, chemicals  and perishable food, which can be all be wrapped in  plastic bags, then stored in a higher place.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed so food will stay cool without power for several hours.
  • Switch off power at the switchboard, gas and the main water valve.
  • Secure  loose items around the property including rubbish bins, garden tools, sports equipment, outdoor furniture etc.
  • Move as much as possible outdoors to higher ground.
  • Sandbag areas at risk from flooding where possible. This includes drains inside the house to help prevent sewage overflows.
  • Boil tap water in case of contamination.
  • If you are in area affected by flooding, are unable to move to a higher storey and/or feel unsafe, follow your household emergency plan and move to your pre-arranged location.  Take your household emergency kit.
  • Never drive, walk, swim or play in floodwaters. Hazards could exist below the surface which you can’t see, regardless of how well you know the area.  Water could be contaminated.

Know your evacuation routes

After flood waters have gone down

  • Wait until official advice it is safe to return to a flood zone.  Wait until water has fallen below floor level to enter a house.
  • Check whether electricity, gas or water supplies have been affected.
  • Treat every electrical item with extreme caution.  Avoid power lines or other electric lines and cables. Anything likely to have gotten wet must be checked by an electrician before use.
  • Wear rubber boots or rubber-soled shoes and rubber or leather gloves
  • Watch for damaged flooring, walls and ceilings as well as unexpected visitors such as snakes
  • Follow any instructions for treating water and discard any food exposed to floodwater unless in airtight containers.
  • Burn or bury rubbish, wash mud, dirt or debris as soon as you can and wash thoroughly after handling anything contacted by floodwater.  Treat all items exposed to floodwater as contaminated.
  • Contact emergency services if you need help.
Last updated: 18 August 2015