Mon, Jan 17, 2011 - Page 4 News List

Floods lash Victoria state, Tasmania

ONCE IN A CENTURY:A season’s worth of rain has fallen in just one or two days in Victoria, where the military is helping thousands of people evacuate

AFP, SYDNEY

Volunteers remove flood debris from houses in the Brisbane, Australia, suburb of Fairfield yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Australia’s flood crisis shifted to the country’s far south yesterday, with 14,000 homes swamped by a record deluge as the toll mounted in the reeling northeast amid scenes of devastation.

Dozens of towns braced for unprecedented river levels in Victoria State, where 14,000 homes were waterlogged and 3,500 people had fled, days after the flooding emergency peaked in northeastern Queensland.

Homes were swamped to waist height as waters swept through the southeast, leveling fences and trees and tearing up roads.

“It’s shocking, devastating, heart wrenching,” Charlton resident Peter Gretgrix said. “It’s just total devastation, some of the shops in the lowish area are just a mess, windows smashed out, it’s terrible.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it, [and] I’m 57,” he said.

Devastated by the worst wildfires in Australia’s history just two years ago, which killed 173 people, parts of Victoria were now facing once-in-a-century flooding, with some towns having never experienced such inundation.

Soldiers were helping people evacuate from their homes, while desperate sandbagging was under way in a number of towns, where a season’s worth of rain had fallen in just one or two days.

“We are facing an unprecedented flood event on the Campaspe river,” emergency spokesman Lachlan Quick said. “Water volumes of this size have never been seen down this river before.”

Flooding also swept through the island state of Tasmania, washing away bridges and forcing hundreds of evacuations.

It follows a six-week crisis in Queensland, where floodwaters swallowed an area the size of France and Germany combined, culminating in the swamping last week of Brisbane and utter devastation of towns to the west.

Experts have linked Australia’s downpours to an especially strong La Nina weather pattern bringing cooler water temperatures and exacerbating the traditional tropical cyclone season. Five of the nation’s seven states and territories have seen flooding since Jan. 1.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the death toll had climbed to 17 since last Monday, with the discovery of a woman’s body in a house in Lockyer Valley.

Debris in Grantham is piled 3m high, 3m wide and 100m long in the shattered town. Residents gathered at the Murphy’s Creek pub, one of few buildings still standing, to mourn the dead and pray for 14 people still missing — the first chance for many in the tight-knit community to grieve with neighbors and friends.

“There are going to be neighbors that don’t return home after this aftermath, families that don’t return, there’s going to be empty desks at schools,” Member of Parliament Scott Buchholz said. “Words really cannot express what the people of the Lockyer Valley are feeling at the moment.”

As waters receded in Queensland, Bligh said the full scale of destruction was emerging, with the number of flooded homes and evacuations doubling in the past week, and the number of properties affected by the waters trebling across an area with a population of 2.1 million.

She warned people to stay out of floodwaters where possible, describing them as a “toxic” soup of rotting animal corpses and food, chemicals and debris.

Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan toured the ravaged Brisbane suburb of Rocklea with friends hit by the disaster as the federal and Queensland governments pledged A$10 million (US$9.89 million) each to the relief fund, which has now raised more than A$84 million.

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