Thousands of people have been forced to evacuate their homes due to flooding in two states in eastern Australia. The flooding was fuelled by three days of rain from a tropical storm.
Rescuers were still helping people leave their homes in the states of New South Wales and Queensland on Tuesday. At least four people have been killed as a result of the flooding, after a three-year-old boy died of injuries sustained when he was hit by a falling tree in Brisbane.
Residents of Brisbane have also been instructed to boil all drinking water, as the flooding has forced the closure of the city's water-treatment plant.
Bundaberg, located north of Brisbane, is one of the hardest hit towns. There, more than 2,000 homes were swamped and many people who had ignored warnings to leave earlier found themselves clinging to their roofs, waiting to be rescued by boat.
Officials said 14 helicopters managed to transport more than 1,000 Queensland residents to safety overnight.
"Across Queensland the wild weather has broken a lot of hearts," Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard told reporters as she inspected damage caused by recent bushfires in parts of Victoria state in the country's southeast.
"I was looking at blackened landscape, burnt trees, black earth; saw some homes that were just completely destroyed," she told public broadcaster ABC. "They were the images in my eyes directly yesterday and then whenever I saw an image coming from Queensland, it's of wild weather and cascading water... flooded homes..."
Australia has experienced a series of deadly weather-related catastrophes in recent years, with more than 170 people dying in 2009 bushfires in Victoria, and flooding in Queensland in 2011 claiming 35 lives.
Climate change experts say more extreme weather can be expected in future.
"On average, over a number of years, we would expect more heavy rainfall and more hot extremes and more extreme bushfire weather conditions," David Karoly, and advisor to the Australian government's Climate Commission told the AFP news agency.
"So Australia is a land of drought and flooding rains, yes. More droughts and worse flooding rains."
pfd/msh (AFP, Reuters)
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