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Floods rage in southern Australia


Floodwaters feared to have claimed the life of a young boy cut the southern Australian town of Horsham in two Tuesday as Canberra urged big business to dig deep for the disaster's victims.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard turned to corporate Australia for help in what is expected to be the nation's costliest ever natural disaster -- a deluge that has lashed five of its seven states, killing more than 30 people.

"The support pouring in from across Australia for people affected by the (northeastern) Queensland floods has been amazing, but Queensland is going to need much, much more in the coming months," the prime minister said.

Rising waters spilled into the streets of Horsham's town centre as the swollen Wimmera River inched towards its peak, dividing the town of 14,200 and cutting power to thousands of homes in a once-in-200-year event.

"We are expecting to see the peak maximum flood levels today and inundation will come with that," an emergency services spokeswoman said.

"Significant inundation of properties is currently being experienced with water up to a metre deep in some areas."

More than 50 villages in southeastern Victoria state have been swamped following heavy rains linked to an especially strong La Nina weather pattern which also unleashed record flooding in the northern Queensland region.

At least 31 people died in the Queensland deluge -- also fuelled by La Nina -- which spread across an area of France and Germany combined and devastated Brisbane, Australia's third-largest city, as it peaked last week.

Fears were mounting that the floods might have claimed their first life in the south, with an eight-year-old boy vanishing in a swollen waterhole near the town of Shepparton on Monday morning.

Air and water searches have found no sign of the boy.

Floods are expected to persist in Victoria for up to a fortnight, while the grim recovery in Queensland is still in its early stages, with 10 people still missing and warnings that yet more may be found dead in their homes.

Gillard announced a taskforce of corporate leaders, including transport tycoon Lindsay Fox, Deloitte chief Wayne Goss and Woolworths supermarket chief Michael Luscombe, to rally donations from the business community and mobilise support for the mammoth recovery effort.

The group, which also includes Catherine Livingstone, a director of telecoms giant Telstra and Leighton Holdings construction firm chief David Stewart, will seek both cash and in-kind donations from corporate Australia, said Gillard.

"Already, corporate Australia has been tremendously generous," she said. "But given the scale of this disaster, we need to do more."