AUSTRALIA: University opens doors to flood victims

As flood waters continue to spread over a bigger proportion of the state of Queensland than the entire area of France and Germany combined, for John Price and his cattle dog cross Tike the evacuation centre based at CQUniversity in flood-bound Rockhampton has been a real blessing.

When the waters began to surround his home in the now inundated suburb of Depot Hill, Price was forced to leave his home with his dog and set up residence in the university's sports complex. As one of the first to arrive at the evacuation centre set up by the Red Cross, he believes he could also be one of the last to leave.

"The house was still high and dry when we left but the roads were getting cut off and we were going to be stranded. I knew we had to get out while we could," Price said.

Tike has taken up a comfortable kennel at the RSPCA's makeshift pet rescue station on the university's covered basketball courts, just a few metres behind the sports complex where Price has a bed alongside 120 other flood victims.

Tike is one of more than 70 pets being housed at the university which has facilities for cats, dogs, birds and even a snail at one stage.

RSPCA's Executive Manager of Animal Focus Sheila Collecott said the facility has been a life saver for many loved companions, although she hopes to be able to access volunteers to foster some animals as the disaster worsens.

"We have had to rescue pets every day and have had four rescues this morning alone," Collecott said. She said the animals were all doing well and all had received mandatory vaccinations.

Although the pet facility is close to the evacuation centre, two pet owners opted to bed beside their beloved pets. Meanwhile, at the air conditioned complex people have been well looked after with up to six meals a day served by dedicated Salvation Army volunteers.

Price said the facility and the support from the Red Cross, Salvos, Lifeline and other community volunteers had been excellent.

University tennis courts and grounds had been made available for evacuees, large televisions set up and the Salvos were running shuttles to shopping centres. The arrival of a large container of footballs and soccer balls from one national store were also quick put to use.

Latest estimates indicate the economic cost of the floods to Queensland will be more than A$5 billion with more than 10 lives lost and 20 towns already under water or cut off. Southern states are facing their own looming disasters as the flood waters flow down swollen rivers into New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

* Priscilla Crighton works in the media section at CQUniversity.