Fires and floods continue to hammer at Australia


Mon, Feb 07, 2011 - Page 3

Wildfires threatened homes and new flooding forced evacuations in embattled Australia yesterday, as officials warned that last week’s monster cyclone would compound economic woes.

Hot and gusty conditions whipped up by Cyclone Yasi, which ripped into the northeast coast on Thursday, fanned an out-of-control blaze on the outskirts of Perth, endangering about 20 homes.

High winds forced the grounding of water-bombing aircraft and residents in the fire’s path were warned they were in danger and needed “to act immediately to survive.”

More than 150 people fled the roof-height flames for evacuation centers, as the state of Victoria paused to mark two years since the “Black Saturday” firestorm that claimed 173 lives.

Fire-ravaged towns were among those those hit by Yasi-linked flash floods overnight, which forced thousands of people from their homes in Victoria, still reeling from widespread flooding last month that also hit northeastern Queensland.

Mildura — a city of about 50,000 residents — had a year’s worth of rainfall in a single day, swamping 200 homes, thanks to Yasi.

Flooding rains were also forecast for Alice Springs.

Yasi was one of the largest storms to ever hit Australia and Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan warned it would only compound economic woes brought by the Queensland floods — the recovery from which is set to cost an estimated A$5.6 billion (US$5.68 billion).

Tourism would also be hit, he added, with the cyclone region accounting for about 5 percent of Australia’s tourist earnings.

Analysts have put the damage to Australia’s agricultural sector as a result of the recent disasters at A$1.4 billion.

Canberra has announced a one-off tax on higher-income earners to help meet the cost of rebuilding from the floods.

However, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard vowed not to increase the levy and said recovery from the cyclone and fresh Victoria downpours would be funded through spending cutbacks.

“There are no easy choices left now, so in making further budget cuts, there is going to be some pain around and people are going to have to recognize that,” she said.