Australia declares flooding disaster in second state
A second Australian state was declared a disaster zone on Friday, as wild winds tore roofs from houses and flood waters cut off entire towns.
Severe storms lashed the coast of the southeastern state of New South Wales overnight, felling trees and power lines, isolating thousands of homes and forcing mass evacuations.
The extreme weather killed one man earlier this week when a freak gust flung a sheet of metal though an office window in Queensland state, which declared the extreme weather a natural disaster late Wednesday.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the government stood ready to assist in any way necessary, while the disaster declarations freed emergency funds for devastated businesses, farmers and residents.
Authorities ordered more than 5,000 homes to be evacuated in the town of Lismore, emergency officials said, with widespread flooding isolating much of the area and cutting off a number of communities further south.
"One old fellow early this morning was saying that he's never seen the river come up so fast," Lisa Gava, manager of the Lismore evacuation centre, told state radio.
Heavy rains and gale-force winds were forecast to continue into Saturday, the weather bureau said.
"Destructive wind gusts exceeding 125 kilometres an hour (77 miles an hour) are possible along the coastal fringe during Friday," the bureau said.
Very large waves were also pounding the coast, the bureau said, with extremely dangerous surf conditions likely to persist for up to a week.
Queensland's premier Anna Bligh said on Thursday the damage bill from this week's deluge was likely to be among the highest the state had ever seen, with flooding at its worst since 1974.
Floods unleashed by cyclonic rains in February saw much of Queensland declared a disaster area, with more than one million square kilometres (385,000 square miles) deluged and 3,000 homes damaged.
Further floods hammered the region last month, washing a number of motorists to their death and claiming the life of a 12-year-old girl who was swimming in a swollen weir.
Bligh this week declared Queensland's long-standing drought officially over for the southeast of the state, with the deluge boosting water levels.
But rural lobby group Agforce said the big dry, which has gripped parts of Australia for a decade, was far from over for some farmers.
The floods follow a record once-in-a-century heatwave in southeastern Australia, in which more than 2,000 homes were razed by major wildfires and 173 people died.
Meteorologists have warned the extreme temperatures and downpours -- a common feature of Australian summers -- would only increase as a result of climate change.