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Short respite but worst of Australian floods 'not over'

Death toll from Philippine rains rises to five: rescuers
Manila (AFP) Jan 3, 2011 - The death toll from heavy rains swamping the eastern Philippines has risen to five following a fresh landslide, the government said Monday. A one-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl were buried and killed in a landslide on the island of Leyte on Sunday, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said in its latest bulletin. Floods and landslides over the weekend forced more than 1,000 families to flee their homes on Leyte and nearby Samar island, with soldiers mobilised to conduct rescues and clear roads, it added. Meanwhile, the government agency said a young woman who was reported missing in the Bicol peninsula of the main island of Luzon was found dead, raising the toll from bad weather in that area to three.

All three Bicol victims were swept away by flash floods while they fled their homes last week, it added. The Bicol floods forced more than 62,000 people to seek shelter at government-run evacuation camps, but most returned home as the weather improved a few hours before the year turned, it said. However heavy rain was still pounding the eastern coast of the main southern island of Mindanao for the third straight day on Monday, forcing about 900 people to flee their homes, it said. No casualties have been reported in the Mindanao flooding. The state weather service said cold air from northeast Asia was triggering heavy rain as it came into contact with warmer air in the tropical country.
by Staff Writers
Bundaberg, Australia (AFP) Jan 3, 2011
Emergency services in northeastern Australia geared up Monday to battle huge flooding that has left at least one person dead, amid warnings the worst of the devastation is far from over.

Up to 200,000 people are estimated to have been hit by the fast-flowing waters which have left entire rural towns under water and cut off many more over a vast area the size of France and Germany combined.

But in a rare glimmer of good news, the bureau of meteorology in Queensland early Monday cancelled a severe thunderstorm warning, saying the immediate threat had passed.

However, state assistant police commissioner Alistair Dawson has warned the emergency could drag on for another month and cautioned that major difficulties still lay ahead.

"It's hard to make the call that the worst is behind us," Dawson said on Sunday.

"Parts of the state are still in response mode while others are in recovery... I think we're in the middle of the event," he said.

The floods, which are wreaking untold billions of dollars in damage to crops and Australia's key mining industry, claimed their first victim Sunday when the body of a missing woman was recovered.

There are fears for another man missing after his fishing boat was swamped Saturday afternoon near Gladstone, at the centre of the floods, and witnesses reported seeing a second man swept away in the coastal town of Rockhampton.

The 41-year-old woman victim was swept from her car as she tried to cross a swamped causeway in the Gulf of Carpentaria region.

Police managed to save three children and another adult from the car but the woman disappeared before they could reach her.

"These waters are exceptionally fast, they're not to be trifled with and they're not to be taken lightly," Dawson said.

Queensland State Treasurer Andrew Fraser has described the situation as "a disaster of biblical proportions".

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who on Friday toured inundated regions, said the mining sector had been particularly badly hit, adding that farmers, small businesses and tourism would also suffer.

Residents in Rockhampton were forced to flee the rising waters in darkness Saturday night, while helicopters delivered food and other supplies to about 22 centres hit by the deluge.

Rockhampton's airport, a major regional hub, was closed to commercial traffic because the runways were under water while the deluge also cut main roads and railways into the town and disrupted power supplies.

The town's river is expected to peak at 9.4 metres (31 feet) Wednesday, threatening 2,000-4,000 homes, and Mayor Brad Carter said desperate sandbagging was under way.

Rockhampton could be isolated for up to 10 days, and though food shortages were not yet an issue, Carter said he was unsure how long supplies could last as the situation worsens.

"The water inundation is far more extensive than we thought it was. It's very extensive," Carter said after an aerial tour on Sunday.

"The geographic area has an enormous amount of water to it either side of ...the Fitzroy river, which has broken through its banks and is covering large agricultural areas," said Carter.

Officials were warning of a critical drinking water shortage at the inland town of Dalby after its treatment plant was swamped, meaning supplies had to be trucked in.

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 remained empty of residents.

earlier related report
Australia braces as devastating floods set to worsen
Sydney (AFP) Jan 3, 2011 - The Australian military and emergency services were Monday battling huge flooding in the country's northeast that has left at least one person dead, amid warnings the worst of the devastation is to come.

Up to 200,000 people are estimated to have been hit by the fast-flowing waters which have left 22 rural towns under water or substantially inundated by flooding covering an area the size of France and Germany combined.

The bureau of meteorology in Queensland early Monday cancelled a severe thunderstorm warning, saying the immediate threat had passed, but officials said they expected evacuation centres to swell as waters rose.

The Australian Red Cross said the situation was rapidly changing, with entire towns still evacuated in some places while residents of others were returning to clean-up and assess the damage.

A "massive wall of water" was heading towards other towns and residents of Rockhampton were still waiting for the Fitzroy River to peak, Queensland executive director Greg Goebel told AFP.

"There are people who simply cannot get back at this stage," Goebel said.

"But we've got other towns that the water has passed through and they are starting to make their way back. But then we've got the waters rising in Rockhampton."

Queensland state assistant police commissioner Alistair Dawson has warned the emergency could drag on for another month and cautioned that major difficulties still lay ahead.

"It's hard to make the call that the worst is behind us," he said Sunday.

"Parts of the state are still in response mode while others are in recovery.... I think we're in the middle of the event," he said.

The floods, which are wreaking untold billions of dollars in damage to crops and Australia's key mining industry, claimed their first victim Sunday when the body of a missing woman was recovered.

The 41-year-old woman was swept from her car as she tried to cross a swamped causeway in the Gulf of Carpentaria region.

Police managed to save three children and another adult from the car but the woman disappeared before they could reach her.

"These waters are exceptionally fast, they're not to be trifled with and they're not to be taken lightly," Dawson said.

Police said there were no further reports of missing persons related to the floods but that other search and rescue missions were under way.

The floods have hit the mining sector particularly hard, while farmers, small businesses and tourism are also expected to suffer.

The focus was on Rockhampton on Monday, with the city's airport, a major regional hub, closed to commercial traffic because the runways were under water.

The deluge also cut main roads and railways into the town and disrupted power supplies.

The town's river is expected to peak at 9.4 metres (31 feet) Wednesday, threatening 2,000-4,000 homes, and Mayor Brad Carter said desperate sandbagging was under way.

Rockhampton could be isolated for up to 10 days, and though food shortages were not yet an issue, Carter said he was unsure how long supplies could last as the situation worsens.

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

"It's just devastating," Queenslander Beryl Callaghan told Sky News after returning to her water-damaged home.




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Fears for missing in 'biblical' Australian floods
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 thousa ... read more

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