Wild floods hit thousands more Australian homes
Australia's flood crisis shifted to the country's far south on Sunday, with 13,000 homes swamped by a record deluge as the toll mounted in the reeling northeast amid scenes of devastation.
Dozens of towns braced for unprecedented river levels in Victoria state, where 13,000 homes were under water and 3,000 people had fled the rising waters, days after the flooding emergency peaked in northeastern Queensland.
Homes were swamped to waist height as waters swept through the southeast, levelling fences and trees and tearing up roads.
Devastated by the worst wildfires in Australia's history just two years ago, parts of Victoria were now facing once-in-a-century flooding, with some towns having never experienced such inundation.
"It's catastrophic, it's a complete disaster, there's no houses down the bottom of town really that aren't under water," said Charlton shopkeeper John Tormey.
"We've got the local supermarket ... nearly wiped out completely and a lot of the old guys have just never seen anything like what it is at the moment," he told ABC radio.
Flooding also swept through the island state of Tasmania, washing away bridges and forcing hundreds of evacuations.
It follows a six-week crisis in Queensland, where floodwaters swallowed an area the size of France and Germany combined, culminating in the swamping last week of Brisbane, Australia's third largest city, and utter devastation of towns to the west.
Experts have linked Australia's downpours to an especially strong La Nina weather pattern bringing cooler water temperatures and exacerbating the traditional tropical cyclone season.
Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh said the death toll had climbed to 17 since January 10, with the discovery of a woman's body in a house in the worst-hit Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane, where a wall of water virtually razed towns.
Residents gathered at the Murphy's Creek pub, one of few buildings still standing, to mourn the dead and pray for 14 people still missing -- the first chance for many in the tight-knit community to grieve with neighbours and friends.
"The people of the region are emotionally fragile, yet display a bravery that is remarkable", said local MP Scott Buchholz.
Soldiers and police combed through buildings and fields in the search for bodies in the Lockyer Valley, where shipping containers were to provide temporary shelter for those whose homes were swept away.
As waters receded in Queensland, Bligh said the full scale of destruction was emerging, with the number of flooded homes and evacuations doubling in the past week and the number of properties affected by the waters trebling.
She warned people to stay out of floodwaters where possible, describing them as a "toxic" soup of rotting animal corpses and food, chemicals and debris.
Treasurer Wayne Swan toured the ravaged Brisbane suburb of Rocklea with friends hit by the disaster as the federal and Queensland governments pledged Ausê10 million (ê9.86 million) each to the relief fund.
"In terms of cost it's far too early to evaluate," Swan told AFP of the damage bill.
"The priority is to provide immediate relief with emergency payments to the people affected.
"There is certainly a huge impact in terms of tourism, in terms of the export of resources, especially coal, in terms of small businesses. But it's too early to say how much."
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