Amid reports of looting in Brisbane and Ipswitch due to heavy floods, Police Minister Neil Roberts and Commissioner Bob Atkinson have announced Operation Safeguard to deploy 100 policemen from Brisbane and another 100-member squad drawn from interstate police services on Thursday.

“Such behavior is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The formation of this squad is a pre-emptive strike -- a clear warning to any member of the public who thinks they can profit from this disaster. Those people negatively impacted by this tragic natural disaster are already doing it tough. They do not need to have their personal circumstances complicated by people looting their homes and businesses, said Roberts in a statement.

The squads will take up 24-hour patrolling in flood-affected areas for three weeks initially, said Commissioner Atkinson. “The Queensland Police Service recognizes that there are areas which could take weeks or longer before homes and businesses can be cleaned and reoccupied, and we are committed to ensuring that property owners do not have to deal with the additional stress of looting while they are trying to rebuild,” he said.

The Queensland area, which is mainly rural and dependent on mining and agriculture, was burdened with more than $1 billion in lost coal productions, according to the Queensland Resources Council last week, while other major industries and shipping firms of wheat and sugar have also been hurt. More than a dozen mines in the state are either operating on reduced capacities, says an ABC report.

Cyclone Tasha hit the Queensland area two weeks ago with 150-250 mm rainfall which saw three towns submerged in water and declared disaster areas.

Meanwhile, the Brisbane government has appealed for donations from the public to meet the relief efforts. brisbane fl

Prisoners roped in:

Police minister Roberts has also roped in low risk prisoners and community service offenders to help in Toowoomba area, He said, The community can be assured that their safety is paramount, and that Corrective Services officers will supervise the prisoners at all times.”

Roberts said 15 women prisoner and four staff from the Helana Jones Centre have been working for the past two days filling sandbags at the Zillmere council depot and 10 more will be brought from the Townsville Correctional Centre next Monday to assist with the flood clean up at Rockhampton.

Prisoner work camps have frequently worked with local communities in the wake of natural disasters, including close to 100 prisoners being deployed throughout Queensland to help local communities with flood relief efforts in 2008. Prisoners with sexual offending backgrounds are not eligible to be part of the crews.

There are currently 13 permanent work camps across Queensland providing opportunities for about 124 male and 38 female offenders to work on community service projects, said a statement.

Progress on Roads:

Meanwhile, the Bruce Highway around Gympie has reopened six days after floodwaters closed the national highway link, said Main Roads Minister Craig Wallace. The Bruce in this area is the lifeline to Gympie, the Fraser Coast, and all the communities north of there to south of Rockhampton.

“It’s a long-distance east coast freight route which is a critical part of the supply chain to many communities in north Queensland. It has been cut for many days in several places 10 to 20 kms south of Gympie, blocking vital freight movements, following the drop in the Mary River.

The road from Brisbane to Cairns will reopen on Friday afternoon after two weeks of closure, said another statement. Rockhampton has reconnected to the south with the Bruce Highway and Yeppen Bridge now open to traffic. said Wallace, adding that around 2,000 km of road would be accessible now.

However, the Capricorn Highway between the Yeppen Roundabout and Gracemere remains closed to all traffic. “This could remain the case for several days yet as engineers are still to assess the condition of the Capricorn Highway to carry traffic, the minister said.

Community Recovery Centres:

Community Recovery centres in Dalby, Chinchilla and Condamine areas are set up to provide more than A$2 million in financial help.

Community Services Minister Karen Struthers said, Eligible people will be able to apply for Personal Hardship Grants of $170 a person or a maximum of A$850 for a family of five or more to help with replacing essentials like food, clothing, medications and accommodation. Already in the Dalby, Chinchilla and Condamine area, we’ve paid more than A$250,000 in Personal Hardship Grants with more than $2 million paid out across the state.”

Essential Household Contents Grants of up to A$5,120 may also be available to eligible low-income families to help with the replacement or repair of uninsured, essential household contents which have been lost, damaged or destroyed by flooding.

Further assistance is also available to help repair owner-occupied, uninsured residences damaged by flooding, with means tested Structural Assistance Grants of up to A$10,500 for individuals and A$14,200 for families.

The centre will operate from 8.30am to 4.30pm each day from the Community Centre at the corner of Drayton and Nicholson Street in Dalby.

Residents affected by flooding in the Sunshine Coast, Fraser Coast, Gympie, and Moreton Bay regional council areas can seek assistance from the government. People in more than 20 local government areas were eligible to apply for Personal Hardship Assistance, the minister said.

Applications for financial assistance can also be made at or by phoning the Community Recovery Line on 1800 173 349.

On Recovery Path:

Treasurer Andrew Fraser said the key focus of the government would be recovery from the devastating floods that have seen three-quarters of the state disaster-declared.

Fraser said the December labor force figures showed 5,700 jobs were created while unemployment rate was steady at 5.7 percent after November’s result was revised. This represents 17 straight months of jobs growth in Queensland.

“The economic impacts of this disaster cannot yet be quantified, but what we do know is many businesses have been impacted,” Fraser said.

“What we don’t want is for that to impact Queensland workers. The Bligh Government has established an economic recovery taskforce as part of its flood response, and this body will work with business and industry to get the economy back up and running. We need to get businesses back on their feet so they can continue employing Queenslanders,” he said.

The government’s 100,000 jobs target stands at 18,700, with 81,300 jobs created since March 2009, he said in a statement.