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Fears for missing in 'biblical' Australian floods

by Staff Writers
Bundaberg, Australia (AFP) Jan 2, 2011
Australian emergency services were battling floods Sunday in the rural northeast that have affected up to 200,000 people, as fears grew the murky waters may have claimed their first victim.

The surging tides, which have left entire towns under water and cut off many more over an area the size of France and Germany combined, swept through vast areas on Saturday, threatening to inundate thousands more homes.

The disaster is of "biblical proportions", one official said.

A man went missing late Saturday after his boat was swamped while on a fishing trip near the city of Gladstone, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported.

And a 41-year-old woman was also missing after the vehicle she was travelling in was swept into a Queensland river, AAP said.

The floods have hurt the nation's lucrative mining industry and cut off major highways as the water rushes through sodden inland regions to the sea.

"In many ways, it is a disaster of biblical proportions," Queensland State Treasurer Andrew Fraser told reporters in flood-hit Bundaberg.

Residents in the town of Rockhampton were forced to flee the rising waters in darkness Saturday night, while helicopters delivered food and other supplies to towns isolated by the deluge.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who on Friday toured inundated regions, said the floods had been devastating and would have an economic impact.

"We're still directly battling flood waters -- we haven't seen the peak of the flood yet at centres like Rockhampton -- so the people of Queensland in many places are doing it tough today," she said.

Gillard said the mining sector had been particularly badly hit.

"They've had to say to the people who buy their minerals that at this time, circumstances are such that they can't keep supply moving," she told reporters.

"Even those mines that could continue to mine obviously have got difficulties with supply routes because so many roads have been affected," she said, adding that farmers, small businesses and tourism would also suffer.

Emergency workers on Saturday focused on the town of Rockhampton, where the Fitzroy River had broken its banks and was rising dangerously, threatening 2,000-4,000 homes ahead of reaching its expected peak on Wednesday.

Residents left their homes in darkness as the floods approached, with some leaving on boats from areas where water was already rising, AAP reported.

"They are actually happening tonight. I hope that not too many people are trying to do this in the dark," said Rockhampton Mayor Brad Carter late Saturday.

He said of the encroaching river: "The best way to describe it is as a raging torrent of water. It's got a tremendous pace."

Carter had earlier warned that the community was likely to be cut off for 10 days, with both roads from the south and its airport blocked.

But in other towns residents are preparing to return to homes evacuated during the week.

In Bundaberg, in Queensland's southeast, the clean-up was set to begin in about 300 homes and 120 businesses as flood waters recede, but other towns such as Theodore and Condamine remain empty of residents.

earlier related report
'Biblical' floods threaten thousands of Australian homes
Bundaberg, Australia (AFP) Jan 1, 2011 - Flood waters swept through vast areas of northeastern Australia Saturday, threatening to inundate thousands more homes in a disaster one official said was of "biblical proportions".

Residents in the town of Rockhampton were fleeing the rising waters in darkness Saturday night, while helicopters delivered food and other supplies to towns isolated by the deluge.

Up to 200,000 people have been affected by the floods, which have hurt the nation's lucrative mining industry and cut off major highways as the water rushes through sodden inland regions to the sea.

"In many ways, it is a disaster of biblical proportions," Queensland State Treasurer Andrew Fraser told reporters in flood-hit Bundaberg.

As the scale of the flooding mounted, the defence forces on Saturday set up a joint task force to coordinate military relief including three army Black Hawk helicopters, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who on Friday toured inundated regions, said the floods had been devastating and would have an economic impact.

"We're still directly battling flood waters -- we haven't seen the peak of the flood yet at centres like Rockhampton -- so the people of Queensland in many places are doing it tough today," she said.

Gillard said the mining sector had been particularly badly hit, with some companies using the force majeure clauses in their contracts.

"They've had to say to the people who buy their minerals that at this time, circumstances are such that they can't keep supply moving," she told reporters.

"Even those mines that could continue to mine obviously have got difficulties with supply routes because so many roads have been affected," she said, adding that farmers, small businesses and tourism would also suffer.

There were fears late Saturday that the floods might have claimed their first victim when a man went missing after his boat was swamped while on a fishing trip near the city of Gladstone, AAP reported.

Local surf lifesavers, volunteer marine rescue and two helicopters joined the search for the man after he disappeared while waiting on a sandbar for his fishing companion to find help, the report said.

Emergency workers were meanwhile focusing on the town of Rockhampton where the Fitzroy River had broken its banks and was rising dangerously, threatening 2,000-4,000 homes ahead of reaching its expected peak on Wednesday.

Residents continued to leave their homes in darkness Saturday night as the floods approached, with some leaving on boats from areas where water was already rising, AAP reported.

"They are actually happening tonight. I hope that not too many people are trying to do this in the dark," said Rockhampton Mayor Brad Carter.

He said of the encroaching river, "The best way to describe it is as a raging torrent of water. It's got a tremendous pace."

Carter had earlier warned that the community was likely to be cut off for 10 days, with both roads from the south and its airport blocked.

"It's possible that our airport could be closed for anything up to three weeks because it takes a fair bit to re-engage... and reactivate an airport once flood waters cover its tarmac," he said.

"The community is still expecting to have significant amounts of flood waters at the height of about 8.5 metres into the middle of January."

But in other towns residents prepared to return to homes evacuated during the week.

In Bundaberg in the state's southeast, the clean-up was set to begin in about 300 homes and 120 businesses as flood waters recede, but other towns such as Theodore and Condamine remain empty of residents.

In the central Queensland town of Emerald, where about 80 percent of the town was submerged by the worst flooding on record, water from the Nogoa River has inundated 1,000 homes.

"We've only worked that out by taking aerial shots," Central Highlands Mayor Peter Maguire told the AAP news agency. "There may be more homes affected, we don't know."

"We're talking months of cleaning up and repairs," he said, adding that in total about 4,000 homes in the region were flood-affected to some degree.




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Australia PM praises 'resilience' of thousands hit by floods
Bundaberg, Australia (AFP) Dec 31, 2010
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard Friday consoled evacuees from "devastating" floods that have swamped vast swathes of the rural northeast, affecting hundreds of thousands of people. Gillard made a "humbling" visit to an evacuation centre sheltering refugees from the floods, which have left entire towns under water and cut off many more over an area the size of France and Germany combi ... read more

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