After seven years of drought, elated cattle farmers in the Australian state of Queensland welcomed the rainstorms heading their way as a blessing.

But now, after one of the most devastating deluges in state history, a billion-dollar industry could be left in tatters.

Authorities estimate that nearly 500 000 cattle, worth about US$213 million (AU$300 million) have been killed by flooding in Queensland’s north since the rain began falling late last month.

The downpours have ended but the cattle carcasses remain, baking in the record-breaking summer heat.

If not buried or burned, they will pose a health hazard.

“People have gone through drought, they have come out of years and years of drought, and they have now gone into a natural disaster the likes of which no one out there has seen before,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

Cattle farmers and industry lobbyists say the worst could be yet to come.

Australia’s beef industry is one of the country’s biggest economic drivers, with exports in 2017 worth $5.3 billion (AU$7.4 billion).

About $6.1 billion (AU$8.6 billion) worth of beef was consumed domestically from July 2017 until June 2018, according to trade group Meat and Livestock Australia.