Australian towns flooded out
Hundreds of Australians are being evacuated by military helicopters as Queensland sees worst flooding in 50 years.
Last Modified: 29 Dec 2010 07:05 GMT
Many Queenslanders were evacuated after entire towns were inundated by the state's worst deluges in decades [AFP]

A thousand people in a dozen towns across Australia's north-eastern Queensland state have been forced from their homes in a state dealing with its worst floods in 50 years, according to local media.

Military helicopters were called in on Tuesday to help evacuate hundreds of Australians stranded by rising floodwaters, as entire towns were inundated by the worst deluges in parts of the region in decades.

Torrential rains following in the wake of tropical cyclone Tasha, which last week crossed into the state of Queensland before quickly fading. The rains have swollen rivers and flooded scores of farms and homes in the state.

In recent days, up to 27cm of rain have fallen in a 24-hour period in some areas.

Flooding has shut down about 300 roads across Queensland, including two major highways to the state capital Brisbane.

'Problems not over'

Weather forecasters warn the problems are not over yet, as swollen rivers could flood other towns and coastal cities in coming days.

The Queensland government has declared several areas, including Theodore, Chinchilla and Dalby, disaster zones - a move that gives police the power to force people from their homes if necessary.

The entire population of Theodore, a town northwest of Brisbane, is being evacuated after the worst flood in living memory swamped everything except the police station, local media reported.

By early afternoon on Wednesday, the Dawson River at Theodore was at 14.59m and rising - way beyond the town's 1956 record of 14.07m - and most of the town under water.

The defence department has been asked to send in helicopters to help the nine aircraft struggling to move the town's more than 300 residents.

"Following a request from Queensland, the government is providing two Blackhawk helicopters to assist in the evacuation of Theodore," Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister, announced.

"Australian Defence Force personnel are on stand-by to offer further support if required."

Millions in damage

The rain has also caused at least $403 million worth of damage to crops across the state, including damage to sunflower and cotton crops that were just recovering from months of drought, the president of the farmers' lobby group AgForce said.

The government said that it would provide assistance to communities affected by the flooding, helping restore essential infrastructure such as roads, bridges and schools.

"While conditions across much of Queensland have eased, the threat from floodwaters remains in many areas," Gillard said, adding that while authorities had evacuated some people, other communities remain stranded.

Police have warned residents not to attempt to drive through waterlogged roads, after they were forced to rescue several people from vehicles - including two adults and two toddlers who were forced to cling to trees after their car was swept away.

They also arrested three teenagers after they attempted to use inflatable mattresses in a "foolish and dangerous" attempt to ride floodwaters for 30km to get to Brisbane on Monday.

"It's tomfoolery ... people on li-los (inflatable mattresses) floating down rivers, it's madness, we implore people to stop the silliness," Brett Pointing, the assistant police commissioner, said.

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