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Floods of biblical proportions are devastating Australia

 
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01/02/2011 01:42 PM
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Floods of biblical proportions are devastating Australia
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — A woman drowned after trying to cross a flooded causeway in Australia, becoming the first victim of relentless flooding that one official has described as reaching "biblical proportions," police said Sunday.

Days of pounding rain last week left much of northeastern Australia swamped by a sea of muddy water, with flooding affecting about 200,000 people in an area larger than France and Germany combined. The rain has stopped, but rivers are still rising and overflowing into low-lying communities as the water moves toward the ocean.

On Saturday night, two cars trying to cross a flooded causeway were swept into a river in Burketown, in western Queensland state, police said. A 41-year-old woman traveling in the second car disappeared in the rushing water, and her body was recovered Sunday about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) away, Queensland police said.

"We're just grateful there weren't more casualties," Queensland's Acting Assistant Police Commissioner Alistair Dawson said. "We're focused on preventing any more."

About 1,000 people were living in evacuation centers across the state, and it may be a month before floodwaters dry up, Dawson said.

"It's hard to make the call that the worst is behind us," he said. "It's a unique event – parts of the state are still in response mode while others are in recovery. I think we're in the middle of the event." Officials say half of Queensland's 715,305 square miles (1.8 million square kilometers) has been affected by the flooding. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh warned that cleanup efforts were expected to cost billions of dollars.

Another severe thunderstorm was expected to sweep through much of southern Queensland later Sunday, bringing damaging hail and winds and the potential for flash flooding, the state Bureau of Meteorology warned.

"In many ways, it is a disaster of biblical proportions," Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser told reporters in the flooded city of Bundaberg on Saturday.

The city of Rockhampton, near the coast, is the next community in the water's path, and is bracing for flood levels to peak Wednesday.

Officials have been evacuating Rockhampton residents for days, and some were still being moved on Sunday. Mayor Brad Carter warned about 40 percent of the city could be affected by the surging waters, and residents could be forced to wait at least two weeks before returning home.

Around 1,000 homes had water in their yards by Sunday, Dawson said. About 30 residents were staying at an evacuation center, while others have moved in with friends and relatives.

Not everyone was outwardly worried. Water was lapping at the steps of one Rockhampton pub, but the owner had no plans to close down.

"In the big cities, they pay big bucks for canal frontage," Fitzroy Hotel owner Tony Higgins said. [link to www.huffingtonpost.com]

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