It could take years to rebuild the north-west Queensland cattle industry after a year’s rain fell in two weeks, killing half a million cattle as rivers turned into a 13-million-hectare inland sea.
The weather bureau said 2,000 millimetres (78.7 ins) of rain fell in 12 days in the Townsville region, 1,335km north of Brisbane.
Rural farmers’ group AgForce estimates primary producers have lost more than 500,000 head of livestock and the immediate cost to cattle producers would likely top A$1 billion (£552.6 million).
Animals that did not drown, died of exposure in the rain and cold.
AgForce chief executive Michael Guerin said more than 100 producers in the devastated areas had requested fodder to try and save more than 150,000 head of cattle.
“The loss of hundreds of thousands of cattle after five, six, seven years of drought, is a debilitating blow,” Guerin said.
“Some farmers have lost everything, literally everything, except an ever-growing debt, and our first priority is to make sure that they are OK.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a long-term plan will be developed to help producers.
“We are expecting hundreds of thousands in terms of stock losses,” he told a news conference. “This will be heartbreaking to these communities, that have been experiencing years of drought, only to see that turn into a torrential inundation, which threatens now their very livelihoods in the complete other direction.”
He tripled the initial recovery grants to A$75,000 (£41,450) to help people he said are in quite desperate situations.
“What really impacted this time was cattle in poor condition due to earlier drought, followed by combination of the floods, and cold windy conditions afterwards, causing cattle to die from exposure,” Morrison said.
“There’s a very hard road ahead. They will need to be able to make these properties viable, get their breeding stock back in place.
“I was with families who have been on this land for generations, building up a herd of the finest cattle in the world – generations of breeding. They just can’t go and buy the same stock they had before.”
Morrison wore a face cover during his visit to the disaster area due to the overwhelming smell of dead cattle.
“There’s issues of debt to deal with, there’s issues of stock losses, there’s issues of the cash flow,” he said.
“What I am talking about is a five to 10-year plan to rebuild the cattle industry,” he said.
“And we are going to rebuild the cattle industry here – that’s my message to the people of northwest Queensland.”