RACQ CQ Rescue has two aircraft playing a pivotal role in the evacuation of flood-affected residents across the Mackay, Bowen Basin and Whitsunday regions as part of ongoing recovery efforts in the wake of Cyclone Debbie.
As at 1 pm, an RACQ CQ Rescue helicopter was headed to Hamilton Island, which sustained significant damage from Cyclone Debbie, to transfer a patient back to Mackay Base Hospital. A second RACQ CQ Rescue helicopter was en route to Proserpine hospital to transfer two critically ill patients to Townsville General Hospital.
About 6 am today, RACQ CQ Rescue was tasked by the State Co-ordination Centre to fly to Blue Mountain, 62km south of Mackay, to assist seven people, including a toddler and baby stranded by floodwaters on their property.
The family, including two adults and five children aged 16, 8, 7, 3 and 10 months, were seen from the air frantically signalling the rescue helicopter with a torch before it landed near the property on Sarina-Marlborough Road. The house and property were flooded and cut off by raging water from nearby Prospect Creek.
Very tired and relieved their ordeal was over, the seven people were loaded into the Mackay-based helicopter and flown to Sarina High School oval where they were met by Sarina Police who offered further assistance to the distraught family.
RACQ CQ Rescue then flew to the township of Koumala and landed near the Bruce Highway after reports of residents requiring emergency assistance due to rising floodwaters. The rescue crewman aboard completed a thorough search of the premises, which was littered with debris after being inundated by floodwater, and concluded that the residents had already left the property.
Next up was an elderly couple at a home east of Homebush State School who were marooned by floodwaters. RACQ CQ Rescue pilot Greg Webb said the nearby bridge, cane fields and road to Sarina were awash with raging floodwater. Residents were all accounted for and safe but preferred to remain at their properties.
An RACQ CQ Rescue crewman said large expanses of the area had become isolated by the huge volume of torrential rain and flash flooding as a result of Cyclone Debbie passing through the region on Tuesday and the severe weather system on Wednesday.
From the air, the rescue helicopter crew could see cane crops absolutely “annihilated” by floodwaters, wild winds and torrential rain, and the countryside littered with debris including trees and people’s personal and household belongings. This showed the incredible strength of raging floodwaters which had inundated people’s homes and property, RACQ CQ Rescue rescue crewman Arno Schoonwinkel said.
“There’s a huge amount of water lying about and cane paddocks are all completely washed out. There’s debris everywhere like chairs and tables from inside people’s houses just floating in the middle of paddocks,” he said.
“We went to one house this morning at Koumala that was strewn with debris from inside and the water was still roaring through the house and three-quarters of the way up the walls.”
A second RACQ CQ Rescue helicopter was tasked mid-morning to fly to Nebo to retrieve a woman who had recently given birth while stranded in the small township by rising floodwaters.
It is believed the mother went into labour as Cyclone Debbie approached the region and actually gave birth in the Nebo Ambulance Station.