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Volunteer army cleans up as floods spread

An army of volunteers turned out on Saturday to clean up Australia's third-largest city Brisbane after epic floods, as towns were evacuated in the country's south amid the rolling disaster.

world Updated: Jan 15, 2011 11:09 IST

An army of volunteers turned out on Saturday to clean up Australia's third-largest city Brisbane after epic floods, as towns were evacuated in the country's south amid the rolling disaster.

Just as stricken areas in and around the eastern hub of Brisbane began the mammoth task of recovering from floods that killed at least 16, thousands of residents of southern Victoria state were forced to flee fast-rising waters.

"At least 2,000 people have been evacuated from their homes and this number is rising," a Victoria State Emergency Services spokeswoman told AFP after heavy rains sparked flash floods in the southern state.

About 900 properties across 29 towns have been hit by flooding in Victoria, and evacuation warnings were issued for two more country towns -- Donald and Rochester -- early Saturday as Australia's flood crisis spread.

The crisis is not over in Queensland, with residents of the town of Condamine, northwest of Brisbane, bracing for more floods following a destructive deluge earlier this month.

In devastated Brisbane, more than 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) northeast of the Victorian region hit by floods, more than 22,000 people volunteered to help clean up after the floods this week caused billions of dollars of damage.

Swathes of the city lie caked in a thick layer of stinking mud left behind after the Brisbane River burst its banks Wednesday, flooding houses up to their roofs, destroying infrastructure and sending debris and boats hurtling downstream.

"We came down today because we felt it was something that we needed to do... there's a moral obligation and social obligation as well," said volunteer Darren Moss.

Hundreds clutching buckets and brooms gathered at Brisbane bus depots to be taken to areas where homes were badly hit and in the nearby town of Ipswich, hundreds more gathered to help clean out flood-hit homes there.

"As soon as the waters went down we looked at the devastation, we looked at people's dreams, all in tatters," Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale told the ABC broadcaster.

"It has hit us by shock, but I can tell you we're coming back and we're coming back in a big way."

More than 80 towns in Queensland, including the state capital of Brisbane, have been hit by once-in-a-century floods that have covered an area larger than the size of France and Germany combined in recent weeks.

The clean-up operation is yet to begin in regions west of Brisbane hit by a horrifying flash flood on Monday that killed at least 16 people and left more than 20 others missing as the grim search for bodies continues.

In the Lockyer Valley, dubbed the Valley of Death after a wall of water cascaded through it, flash floods uprooted entire houses and lifted up cars like paper cups, propelling them through the churning waters.

In badly hit Grantham all the roads are closed and the railway crossing has been ripped up and strewn with a boat, a caravan and a few cars. The village is considered a "crime scene" as more than 200 police hunt through the wreckage for the bodies of missing which some fear may never be recovered.

"People here are still in shock," explains Rachel, a volunteer caring for Grantham evacuees in the nearby town of Helidon. "People have seen terrible things."

"My daughter was on the bank of the river, she saw on the other bank a mother and her daughter on the roof of a car. The car was washed away in the river by the wall of water, and the two disappeared.

"Since then, my 13-year-old daughter has nightmares every night."

Another volunteer said: "We know a mother who was holding her 20-month-old baby in her arms. The water was so strong that it took the baby. The body is still missing. We'll probably never find the poor baby."

The disaster has generated concern around the world, with US President Barack Obama calling Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to say the US stood ready to help the nation recover from the tragic natural disaster.