Australia

Forced evacuations as Australian floods swamp more towns

Reuters/Jeff Camden

Forced evacuations began Friday in Australia as floods that have already affected 200,000 people swamped more communities in the state of Queensland. Half of the state has been declared a disaster zone. Police moved the elderly and those in low-lying areas from the coastal city of Rockhampton, a tourist hub where 4,000 homes are at risk.

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Meanwhile military Blackhawk helicopters evacuated residents and dropped batches of food in Emerald, population 11,000, after 80 per cent of the rural town was deluged.

Floods triggered by tropical cyclone Tasha have hit the farming and mining belt near Brisbane particularly hard, cutting road and rail links and crippling the region's all-important coal production.

As river levels continued to rise, some 22 towns were inundated or isolated, with sugar cane centre Bundaberg, known for its famous rum, divided in two by the floodwaters.

"As devastating as these floods are, we are seeing a magnificent response by all levels of government and by emergency personnel," Prime Minister Julia Gillard told journalists at a Bundaberg evacuation centre sheltering flood refugees.

"The overwhelming sentiment is one of resilience and one of care and concern for their neighbours."

Queensland premier Anna Bligh called the situation "dire" in some parts of the state, which is the size of France and Germany combined.

She warned that the crisis was far from over, with some floods set to peak in the coming days and not subsiding for another week, and relief and clean-up operations lasting for weeks afterwards.

"We now have three major river systems in flood, we have 17 evacuation centres active, we have more than 1,000 people in those evacuation centres, and many more thousands staying with relatives and friends," Bligh said.
 

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