|Queensland's worst floods in 50 years affected an area the size of France and Germany combined [AFP]
Australians evacuated from inundated areas in Queensland state have begun returning home, greeted by shocking scenes of devastation.
Officials in the hard-hit city of Rockhampton have moved into recovery mode as the massive volume of water - estimated to cover an area the size of France and Germany combined - moved towards the sea.
The Bureau of Meteorology issued a severe thunderstorm warning for a region just south of Rockhampton, saying heavy rain, hail and flash flooding could be expected for several hours on Friday.
Heavy storms were also forecast for other parts of the state.
Flood water levels have dropped in areas further inland.
Queensland has been in the grip of Australia's worst flooding in some 50 years since heavy tropical rains fell for days starting just before Christmas, leaving in its wake destruction estimated up to $5bn.
The floods wiped out crops, slashed mine production and forced thousands from their homes.
At its worst, some 40 townships were inundated and nearly 4,000 people evacuated, with another 10,700 suffering some damage in the flood zone.
Police say 10 people have died in the floods since late November.
As the clean-up began in some towns, others were bracing for the worst of the floods yet to arrive.
In St George, where levies of earth and sandbags have been built around dozens of homes, officials said the floods' peak was now expected to be lower than originally thought, meaning fewer than 30 homes in the town of some 2,500 people were at risk.
The floods brought Australia's $50bn coal export industry to a virtual standstill after some 40 swamped mines were shut, pushing up global prices, and hurt wheat, mango, sugarcane and other crops.
Road and rail links have been washed away in many places, and officials warn it could be months before they are restored.
Major-General Mick Slater, the chief of the flood recovery operation in Queensland, on Friday said that some infrastructure may take years to repair.
"There are some aspects of the rebuilding of infrastructure that will take, potentially, years," he said in Rockhampton.
"We still don't know what it looks like underwater. I know that major roads, rail lines, and bridges are all damaged."