World News

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Thousands hit amid Australia floods

Published 28/01/2013 | 04:40

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A mother and her children walk through floodwaters caused by torrential rains in Lismore, New South Wales (AP/NSW State Emergency Service )

Rescuers have helped drivers to escape swift floodwater and used helicopters to pluck stranded people from rooftops in north-east Australia after torrential rain flooded thousands of homes and businesses, killed four and forced thousands to huddle in shelters.

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Floodwater has peaked in most of the worst-hit areas. Some communities which were initially expected to be inundated appeared to have escaped major damage, with levees holding back the muddy water in one city that was in the high danger zone.

But officials were still urging caution, as fast-moving floodwater in New South Wales prompted 50 rescues, most involving drivers stuck in cars swept away by the current.

In the hardest-hit city of Bundaberg in Queensland, 240 miles north of Brisbane, rescue crews plucked 1,000 people to safety after the river that runs through town broke its banks, sending murky water pouring into streets and homes.

Several people had to be rescued from the roofs of their waterlogged houses, while hospital patients were airlifted to Brisbane as a precaution.

"Listen to the roar of the water - that's not helicopters," Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said. "You see a lot of locations where there are literally sort of rapids. There's white water out there, so it is very dangerous."

Between 2,500 and 3,000 homes and 200 to 300 businesses were inundated with water, Bundaberg Mayor Mal Forman said. Around 1,500 residents took shelter in evacuation centres as they waited for the water to recede.

Queensland residents and officials were being particularly cautious, after floodwater from heavy rain in late 2010 and early 2011 left much of the state under water in the worst flooding Australia had seen in decades.

The current flood crisis was not as severe, though some areas in northern New South Wales were hit by more than 51cm of rain, State Emergency Services Deputy Commissioner Steve Pearce said. Four people have died, including a three-year-old boy who was hit by a falling tree in Brisbane.

In the New South Wales city of Grafton, 370 miles north of Sydney, the river peaked just below the top of the levee wall, prompting relief among officials who had ordered an evacuation affecting 2,500 residents.

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