With Australian floodwaters continuing to rise after days of heavy rain across the state of Queensland, family members and friends of those scattered throughout the rural countryside are counting their blessings that casualties are not as high as they could have been.

In Melbourne, Rabbi Moshe Loebenstein of Chabad-Lubavitch of Rural and Regional Australia – a mobile Jewish center whose recreational vehicle frequently traverses the one-lane roads and country towns dotting the nation’s Outback – reported that most of the Jewish families on his list of contacts were safe and accounted for. Those he hadn’t yet reached were likely okay, he added.

“The majority of people we know are coastal, and the coastal areas aren’t being hit that bad,” said the rabbi. “There are about 80 families that we know of in the flooded area. Since the beginning of the disaster, I’ve been phoning and e-mailing back and forth.”

Loebenstein qualified his use of the term “okay,” pointing out that one woman he spoke with lives in a town of 400 people that has been cut-off by the floodwaters. The local grocery store is quickly running out of food, but she’s counting her blessings. Another family some distance away saw their crops ruined in the floods, but their house has been untouched.

The full scope of the tragedy, said Loebenstein, will likely not be quantified for some time. The floodwaters cover an area bigger than Germany and France combined, and while sparsely populated, the territory is for all intents and purposes, Australia’s breadbasket.

On Sunday, the waters claimed the life of one woman, whose car was swept up as it crossed an overpass.

“We’re just grateful there weren’t more casualties,” Queensland’s Acting Assistant Police Commissioner Alistair Dawson told reporters. “We’re focused on preventing any more.”

Throughout the countryside, people told of landscapes changed overnight; they went to bed surrounded by land and woke up surrounded by water.

“Snakes have been swimming at people’s feet as they make their way through the waters,” Rockhampton resident Petros Khalesirad told the BBC. “I know one guy who killed four snakes this morning, one of which was a taipan - the more it bites the more it injects venom that could easily kill.”

With the forecast improving, government authorities and residents are turning their focus towards cleanup and relief. People talk in terms months and years, not days.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, whose office declared several towns disaster areas last week, toured the flood-zone on Sunday.

"As devastating as these floods are,” she said in Bundaberg, “we are seeing a magnificent response by all levels of government.”

Back in Melbourne, Loebenstein said that he had contacted people living in higher elevations throughout Queensland. All had signaled their willingness to open their homes to evacuees.

“They’ve offered help as far as taking people in and help with cleanup, anything from dry towels to canned food,” he said. “We’re not looking at New Orleans all over again. The support’s there, the help’s there.

“Thank G‑d it’s not as bad as it could’ve been, but is it going to be costly? Yes. Long and slow? Yes.”