First burials as Australian flood crisis deepens
Brisbane, Australia (AFP) Jan 19, 2011
Australia's flood-ravaged Queensland state on Wednesday began the grim task of burying its dead, as people in the sodden south fled a record deluge threatening to engulf homes.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague toured Brisbane to inspect damage from floods that swamped 30,000 homes last week -- the peak of an unprecedented disaster which hit an area larger than France and Germany combined.
"People in Britain were watching this hour by hour, minute by minute, hoping and praying for you," said Hague at a barbecue with flood victims in the east coast city, Australia's third-largest.
"It's hard to imagine the volume of water that came up from the peaceful-looking river over there."
The flooding crisis deepened in southern Victoria state, where engorged rivers threatened to breach a levee around the town of Kerang, prompting officials to warn all 4,000 residents to evacuate.
By late Wednesday, officials said the floodwaters had peaked and engineers expected the levee to hold, but that evacuation warnings would remain in place as the waters were expected to linger for several days.
In Warracknabeal, west of Kerang, a six-kilometre (four-mile) levee bank built mostly by residents seemed to have saved the town from a record inundation after it experienced half its annual rainfall in just a week.
But the threat had not entirely passed as the levee was leaking and 177 homes were still at risk of flooding.
"The worst is not over here in Warracknabeal," said the State Emergency Service's Ray Jasper. "The water will push on the temporary levee until tomorrow lunchtime."
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the real pain was just beginning for those living in the Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane, where residents were returning home after a terrifying "inland tsunami" that killed 20 people.
"This is something that happened in the space of 20-30 minutes. One minute standing in the lounge room, half an hour later literally banging a hole out of the roof and throwing your children up onto it," said Bligh, who toured the shattered region on Tuesday.
"People are reliving that terror as well as coming to terms with what they could see around them and what had happened to their town," she added.
The first burials for victims of the disaster -- a mother and her 13-year-old son swept to their deaths in Toowoomba -- were to be held on Wednesday.
Teenager Jordan Rice, afraid of water and unable to swim, has been lauded as a national hero for urging rescuers to save his 10-year-old brother and mother, Donna, first -- a sacrifice that ultimately cost him his life.
"If there is only one bit of comfort I can take out of the whole situation, it is that neither of them will be alone," Donna's partner, John Tyson, told the Courier Mail newspaper.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said the country also needed to brace itself for the economic cost of the epic floods, which shut down Brisbane last week, disrupted coal exports and wiped out crops.
"You can't close down a capital city for a week and for it not to have an effect on gross state product and gross domestic product," he told Sky News.
"There will be some big bumps in the road as far as the economy is concerned but everyone will roll up their sleeves and we will make it bigger and better than before."
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