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Food, fuel shortages a new threat to flood-hit regions

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Flood-stricken towns in Queensland and NSW now struggling with food and fuel shortages will get increased support from the defence force.

But the issues are expected to last longer, even as floodwaters in Queensland’s south-east and northern NSW begin to recede.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said there would be a close watch on the supply chain in coming days – with shelves emptied in supermarkets across the region and truckies stranded on flood-damaged roads.

Major supermarkets in the flood zones have imposed purchase limits on staples such as toilet paper, meat and some medicines. Some have warned it could be several days before supplies are replenished.

Ms Andrews told Sky News on Thursday the critical days would be until the weekend, but issues still would not be fully resolved then.

“The critical time is now through until Sunday but we will continue to monitor beyond that,” she said.

“We will do what we can to make sure emergency supplies are getting through, people are being rescued from any danger that they are in.”

About 900 Australian Defence Force personnel are already on the ground as part of flood rescue and assistance measures.

Ballina shire mayor Sharon Cadwallader said the situation in the flooded northern rivers town was dire.

“Our supermarket shelves are stripped bare. We don’t have anything. They were hoping some freight line also open up today because food is non-existent and also fuel supplies. We desperately need that,” she told ABC TV on Thursday.

“We were very lucky to got a service station that keeps some fuel for emergency situations.”

Issues of food and fuel shortages for thousands of people are emerging even as greater Sydney remains on high alert for torrential rain and flash flooding throughout Thursday.

A severe weather warning has been issued for Newcastle in NSW down to the state’s south coast.

South-east Queensland was also pummelled with thunderstorms and giant hail overnight. More rain was on its way on Thursday, which was expected to hamper the clean-up effort that is just beginning.

Hall measuring up to six centimetres hit towns in the Sunshine Coast hinterland early on Thursday.

The weather bureau warned a trough was moving across the south-east, raising concerns about the potential for more flash flooding and renewed river rises. Isolated areas could receive falls of more than 150 millimetres, it warned.

Also on Thursday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he expected the clean-up bill from the floods to be in the billions.

He told ABC radio the wider impact on the economy would depend on how the broader supply chain was affected.

He said, unlike in the 2011 Queensland floods, the current crisis had not impacted supply ports and major mines, which cost the economy more than $4 billion.

Mr Frydenberg told the Nine Network that further financial support for people in flood affected areas was being worked on by Emergency Management Minister Bridget McKenzie.

But Labor spokesman Jim Chalmers said it was still too difficult for people to access emergency support payments.

“[Labor] has been asking for Services Australia teams to be in our communities. Unfortunately, they have been disproportionately sent to other communities, and that’s troubling,” he told ABC radio on Thursday.

“It’s absolutely crucial that the support flows to people who need it, it’s been hard enough on people already … we shouldn’t be making that harder by not providing the support people need and deserve.”

Mr Chalmers also said the cost of the clean-up would be affected by the lack of building supplies and skills shortages from even before the flood crisis.

Meanwhile, the peak body for psychologists wants flood victims in Queensland and NSW to be able to access vital mental health support through Medicare.

The Australian Association of Psychologists has called for similar mental health support measures that were introduced after the Black Summer bushfires to apply to any large-scale natural disaster such as the recent floods.

“While disaster relief payments might help victims in the short term, the ongoing mental health impacts of a disaster can be devastating,” the association’s executive director Tegan Carrison said.

-with AAP

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