THE economic toll from the severe floods that have swept across the Australian state of Queensland could reach more than A$5bn (€3.8bn), according to government estimates.
The floods, which cover an area the size of France and Germany combined, now affect 40 towns across the state and some 200,000 people.
In an attempt to reassure communities under siege from the waters, Anna Bligh, Queensland's premier, announced that a flood-recovery taskforce would be set up immediately.
Led by an army general, the body would develop a flood recovery plan, prioritising road and rail repairs and setting out initiatives to rejuvenate regional economies, she said.
"Queensland is a very big state. It relies on the lifelines of its transport system, and those transport systems in some cases are facing catastrophic damage," she said.
"If you count everything from the cost to homes, the home rebuilding effort, public infrastructure rebuilding effort and economic loss, I think we're well above A$5bn territory."
The estimate far exceeds an earlier prediction that the floods would cost the state A$2bn (e1.5bn).
The disaster has halted production at 75pc of the state's coal mines and has also affected the agricultural and tourist industries.
Queensland is a centre of Australia's coal mining industry and 40 mines have been shut because of the flooding. Some coal companies have begun to downgrade profit projections as a result.
Scientists fear the floods could damage the Great Barrier Reef, with debris and sediment pouring into the sea. "This does impact on the reef. It just impacts on the reef's resilience so you get very stressed corals, you get stressed sea grass," said Michelle Devlin, of James Cook University.
Miss Bligh said the recovery from the "unprecedented" floods would take months. "This is a very serious job ahead of us, recovering from a disaster like this. Rebuilding regional Queensland will be a marathon, not a sprint," she said.
Experts said floods had already cost A$1bn (e760,000) in delayed coal production.
In flood-hit Rockhampton, a regional capital of 75,000, residents nervously eyed the fast-flowing Fitzroy River, which is expected to peak at almost 31ft. "To the best of my understanding we have the equivalent of one or two Sydney Harbours of water flowing past Rockhampton on a daily basis," Mayor Brad Carter said, adding that the town could take a year to recover.
Rockhampton residents have also reported seeing higher than usual numbers of snakes, Carter said. Saltwater crocodiles were another worry for people entering floodwaters, as the predators have been spotted from time to time. (© Daily Telegraph, London)