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Costs mount in savage Australia floods

by Staff Writers
Horsham, Australia (AFP) Jan 18, 2011
Floodwaters claimed the life of a young boy in southern Australia Tuesday as Canberra urged big business to dig deep for a recovery analysts warned could cost Aus$20 billion ($19.7 billion).

Prime Minister Julia Gillard turned to corporate Australia for help in what is expected to be the nation's costliest ever natural disaster -- a deluge that has lashed five of its seven states, killing more than 30 people.

Floodwaters surging through southeastern Victoria state claimed their first life, with police divers retrieving the body of an eight-year-old boy who fell into a swollen waterhole Monday.

"(The family) are absolutely shattered, they held a vigil here last night and they always had some sort of hope, they were hoping for the best. Unfortunately it hasn't occurred," said acting senior sergeant Jason Kelly.

The deluge threatened hundreds of homes in towns along the Wimmera River, including Horsham, home to 14,200 people, which was split in two by the flood peak, leaving thousands without power.

More than 50 villages in the region have been swamped following heavy rains linked to an especially strong La Nina weather pattern which also unleashed record flooding in the northern Queensland region.

At least 31 people died in the Queensland deluge -- also fuelled by La Nina -- which spread across an area the size of France and Germany combined and devastated Brisbane, Australia's third-largest city, as it peaked last week.

Severe weather threatened the region south of Brisbane Tuesday, with the weather bureau warning that "damaging winds, very heavy rainfall, flash flooding and large hailstones are likely."

The long-running flood crisis prompted ANZ Banking Group to warn the rebuilding effort in coal mining and farming Queensland state "could be in the order of $20 billion".

"With the Commonwealth (federal) government likely to foot a big proportion of this rebuild, the 2012-13 (return to) budget surplus is, as expected, under significant threat," ANZ said in a note to clients.

Gillard, who has promised to return the budget to surplus by 2013, refused to comment on reports that Canberra was mulling a flood levy to aid the recovery effort, saying such speculation would be "irresponsible".

But she formed a taskforce of corporate leaders to rally donations from the business community and mobilise support for the mammoth recovery effort, warning that Queensland would "need much, much more in the coming months".

"Already, corporate Australia has been tremendously generous," said Gillard. "But given the scale of this disaster, we need to do more."

Transport tycoon Lindsay Fox, Deloitte chief and former Queensland premier Wayne Goss and Woolworths supermarket chief Michael Luscombe are among the group's members, along with Catherine Livingstone, a director of telecoms giant Telstra and Leighton Holdings construction firm chief David Stewart.

Treasurer Wayne Swan has said the floods, which wiped out homes, businesses and crops, crippled the key coal export industry and destroyed railways and roads, could be Australia's most costly natural disaster ever.

Floods are expected to persist in Victoria for up to a fortnight, while the grim recovery in Queensland is still in its early stages, with 10 people still missing and warnings that yet more may be found dead in their homes.

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Wild floods hit thousands more Australians
Sydney (AFP) Jan 16, 2011
Australia's flood crisis shifted to the country's far south on Sunday, with more than 1,400 homes swamped by a record deluge as the toll mounted in the reeling northeast amid scenes of devastation. Dozens of towns braced for unprecedented river levels in Victoria state, where emergency officials told AFP more than 1,400 homes were waterlogged and 3,500 people had fled, just days after the fl ... read more

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