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Mass evacuation in Australia as flood waters rise
by Staff Writers
Dalby, Australia (AFP) Feb 6, 2012

Flood waters rose Monday in parts of Queensland but residents of a threatened town in the Australian state were thrown a lifeline with news that the levee on a swollen river might hold.

Thousands of Australians have been forced to abandon their homes as a record deluge sweeps through areas still reeling from last year's devastating flooding, with St George, in Queensland's south, under most threat Monday.

Many of its residents fled Sunday evening to evacuation centres in nearby Dalby or the state capital Brisbane, although some 400 stayed to help limit the damage despite a mandatory evacuation order.

Local mayor Donna Stewart said the Balonne River in St George, flooding for the third time in less than two years, had reached 13.48 metres (44 feet) and was expected to keep rising until at least Tuesday night.

Forecasters earlier estimated it could top 15 metres, breaching the town's 14.5-metre levee, but they have now revised down the predicted peak to just over 14 metres, making it touch and go whether the levee will hold.

"It's not out of the question it'll go above the 14.5 level but it's more likely not to," said Bureau of Meteorology hydrologist Chris Leahy as authorities dumped mountains of dirt around town to shore up its defences.

Stewart said she was optimistic the town could survive the worst-case scenario.

"The picture is not as grim as what it was looking this time yesterday," she said.

State Premier Anna Bligh, who launched a flood relief appeal, said the St George disaster had been the largest ever evacuation of a town in Queensland.

"The heartbreaking job of calculating the loss is still in its early stages," she said.

Reports said about 30 houses and businesses had been inundated so far, and it was expected to rise.

While most residents have fled, Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said officers would stay to prevent looting.

"We are going to do everything we can to make sure people's homes are safe," he told reporters.

Federal politician Barnaby Joyce, who lives in the town, said watching the flood crisis unfold was "a little bit scary" with the river raging near his home.

"There is something that sounds a little bit like the sea but it is not actually the sea, it's a river and it is just outside the back door," he told ABC radio.

St George has seen major flooding twice in the past two years, once in March 2010 and again last year during Queensland's flooding disaster, which claimed 35 lives and swamped vast tracts of farmland and tens of thousands of homes.

Flooding has been hitting parts of Queensland and New South Wales over the past week but has claimed just one life: a woman whose car was swept from a roadway in Roma, further north of St George.

In that town and nearby Mitchell, a mopping up operation has begun with state Police Minister Neil Roberts saying the scale of the damage was slowly emerging.

"Preliminary assessments show that in Mitchell 280 homes or more have been damaged with water above the floor boards," he told reporters.

"In Roma, it's at least over 400. That's very significant damage and a very significant dislocation for those individuals."

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Three dead in swamped Bulgarian village
Sofia (AFP) Feb 6, 2012 - Three elderly men drowned on Monday as torrential rains broke a dam wall and submerged their southern village under 2.5 metres (eight feet) of icy water, officials and rescuers said.

Biser's mayor Zlatka Valkova told state BTA news agency the men had drowned in their houses.

A major rescue operation was underway, with several teams of emergency workers, a special army unit and helicopters trying to evacuate people from the village of some 800 people, which was not accessible by road.

"People are in panic. Ninety percent of the village is underwater," regional mayor Mihail Liskov said on the radio, declaring a state of emergency in the whole southeastern region of Haskovo.

Civil defence force chief Nikolay Nikolov warned that two bigger dams in southern Bulgaria -- Ivaylovgrad and Studena -- were on the brink of overflowing and that people in the region should also be ready to evacuate.

Authorities have warned neighbouring Greece of massive floodwaters coming down along the Arda and Maritsa rivers.

Landslides meanwhile derailed the locomotive of a train from Belgrade to Istanbul near Svilengrad on the Turkish border, causing no injuries but leaving at least a dozen foreigners stuck for more than six hours.

A code red alert for stormy weather was declared in two regions in the Rhodope mountains to the south.

The village of Nedelino there remained in a state of emergency for a second day Monday over massive landslides. The region was drenched by over 100 litres (26 gallons) of rain per square metre over just 24 hours Sunday.

Weather services meanwhile forecast that an expected drop in temperatures to minus 17 degrees Celsius (1.4 Fahrenheit) this week will yield snowstorms over the coming days.

A cold snap since late January, also gripping large parts of Europe, with temperatures as low as minus 31.4 degrees Celsius (minus 24.5 Fahrenheit) has left more than 16 people dead in Bulgaria, local media reported.


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One dead, many stranded as Greek city floods
Athens (AFP) Feb 5, 2012
An elderly woman died on Sunday and nearly two dozen people had to be rescued by fire crews in the western Greece city of Pyrgos after flooding caused by heavy rainfalls, authorities said. "An 82-year-old woman was found dead in an orange grove, 22 people have been taken to safety and we have received 300 calls to drain water from buildings," a fire department spokeswoman told AFP. She a ... read more

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