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Floods, derailment cut off northern Australia
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) Dec 28, 2011

Major supply and transport routes to parts of Australia's tropical north were cut Wednesday after wild weather derailed a freight train and destroyed sections of a major highway.

Storms linked to ex-tropical cyclone Grant caused flash flooding across the remote Northern Territory that washed a 33-wagon iron ore train off a bridge and swept slabs of roadway from the Stuart Highway.

The Territory's chief minister Paul Henderson said there had been "significant damage" to roads and engineers were yet to inspect bridges.

"Until the waters recede we're not going to have a clear picture as to the structural impacts ... so we're hoping that the waters recede as quickly as they came up," Henderson told ABC Radio.

The damage means that access to the Territory's tropical north, known locally as the Top End, is reliant on air travel, prompting concern about restocking supermarkets and other essentials.

"We have got an issue now with supplies," said Willem Westra Van Holthe, a local politician from the town of Katherine, which gets most of its food from Darwin, further north.

"Shelves will be hit pretty hard, I would imagine."

Henderson said he was hopeful of reopening the arterial Stuart Highway within 48 hours but the rail link was likely to take longer.

The derailed freight train's operators Genesee and Wyoming said crews were inspecting the damaged 350-metre (1,150 foot) segment and "it is not yet known how long repairs will take."

Genesee and Wyoming said an empty crew van and five wagons -- two of which contained hazardous copper concentrate -- were derailed when flood waters washed away the southern base of the Edith River bridge north of Katherine.

Copper concentrate is considered a hazardous substance and inspectors from the environment department are investigating whether there has been any leak.

"We're taking it pretty seriously," a department spokeswoman said.

The railway damage has left The Ghan passenger train, which runs through Australia's desert Outback from the southern city of Adelaide to Darwin, stranded in Katherine with about 200 passengers on board.

"The Stuart Highway is also presently closed north of Katherine and we have now been advised it will be closed for an estimated time of 48 hours," said operator Great Southern Rail.

Grant was downgraded to a tropical low on Monday but it is expected to return to cyclone strength on Friday as it crosses the Gulf of Carpentaria to neighbouring Queensland state.

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New floods hit Philippines, straining Washi rescue
Cagayan De Oro, Philippines (AFP) Dec 28, 2011 - Fresh floods brought more misery to the southern Philippines on Wednesday, a week after tropical storm Washi killed more than 1,200 and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

A low pressure area, combining with a cold front, brought flooding to some parts of Mindanao island over the past two days and further strained search and relief operations for those affected by Washi, officials said.

"There was pre-emptive evacuation. There was fresh flooding in some towns in the northeastern side of Mindanao," Benito Ramos, who heads the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Manila, told AFP.

"This has complicated our relief operations, but we are pressing ahead and the local government units were prepared this time," he said. "They had learned their lesson."

He said one major river system that cuts through several towns burst its banks, washing away homes made of light materials, though there were no new casualties from the fresh floods.

Ramos said relief operations were ongoing for hundreds of thousands affected by Washi, which triggered floods that swept away whole villages built on sandbars and river banks in dozens of Mindanao towns from December 16 to 18.

Government efforts were concentrated on the port cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, which suffered the brunt of the storm, and where many are still believed missing, Ramos added.

Those affected by the new floods were in areas about 150 kilometres (93 miles) to the east of Iligan and Cagayan, he said.

Washi displaced more than 431,000 people with more than 54,000 huddled in overcrowded evacuation centres -- usually schoolhouses and gymnasiums, mostly in Cagayan and Iligan.

The death toll from Washi stood at 1,249 as of Wednesday morning, but Ramos said search for dozens of others missing were still ongoing and could continue into the near year.


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Philippine flood toll rises to 1,249
Cagayan De Oro, Philippines (AFP) Dec 27, 2011
The death toll from killer floods in the Philippines rose to 1,249 on Tuesday, more than a week after the disaster struck, with officials expecting more corpses to be found. The civil defence office initially said the confirmed number of fatalities had surged by more than 200 to 1,453, before revising the figure downwards due to double-counting. Civil defence chief Benito Ramos said his ... read more

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