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Australian floods claim first victim

A girl falls in the mud as her sister and father remove damaged belongings from their home affected by floodwater in Bundaberg, Queensland. (REUTERS)


"Biblical" floods in northeastern Australia claimed their first victim Sunday, with the body of a missing woman recovered as the surging waters continued to rise.

Emergency officials and police searched through the night by boat and helicopter for the 41-year-old swept from her car as she tried to cross a swamped causeway in the northern Gulf of Carpentaria region.

Police managed to save three children and another adult from the car but the woman disappeared before they could reach her.

"Searchers located the woman's body around 10:20 am today about two kilometres (one mile) from the causeway," police said.

There were fears for another man missing after his fishing boat was swamped Saturday afternoon near Gladstone, at the centre of the floods, and witnesses reported seeing a second man swept away in the swamped city of Rockhampton.

Up to 200,000 people are estimated to have been hit by the floods which have left entire towns under water and cut off many more over an area the size of France and Germany combined, wreaking untold billions in damage to crops and the nation's key mining industry.

"In many ways, it is a disaster of biblical proportions," Queensland State Treasurer Andrew Fraser told reporters in flood-hit Bundaberg.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who on Friday toured inundated regions, said the floods had been devastating and would have an economic impact.

"We're still directly battling flood waters -- we haven't seen the peak of the flood yet at centres like Rockhampton," she said.

Gillard said the mining sector had been particularly badly hit, adding that farmers, small businesses and tourism would also suffer.

Residents in the town of Rockhampton were forced to flee the rising waters in darkness Saturday night, while helicopters delivered food and other supplies to about 20 towns hit by the deluge.

Rockhampton's airport, a major regional hub, was closed to commercial traffic as the runways went under water while the rising water cut main roads into the town and disrupted power supplies.

The town's river is expected to peak at 9.4 metres (yards) Wednesday, threatening 2,000-4,000 homes, and mayor Brad Carter said desperate sandbagging was under way. Rockhampton could be isolated for as many as 10 days.

"The water inundation is far more extensive than we thought it was. It's very extensive," Carter said.

Carter earlier described the swollen Fitzroy river as a "raging torrent of water. It's got a tremendous pace."

In Bundaberg, in Queensland's southeast, the clean-up was set to begin in about 300 homes and 120 businesses as flood waters recede, but other towns such as Theodore and Condamine remain empty of residents.