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Thousands flee as flood waters swamp Australia's Victoria state

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2011-01-16

More than 1,400 homes in Australia's southern Victoria state were swamped by surging flood waters Sunday, as record river levels caused thousands to flee. The crisis come as the death toll from severe flooding in the country's northeast rose to 18.

AFP - Australia's flood crisis shifted to the country's far south on Sunday, with more than 1,400 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 emergency officials told AFP more than 1,400 homes were waterlogged and 3,500 people had fled, just days after the flooding emergency peaked in northeastern Queensland.

"I would expect that to reach 1,500 by daylight tomorrow," emergency spokesman Lachlan Quick told AFP.

"To put that in perspective it was just a few hundred during September's floods statewide, which were some of the worst we had ever experienced," Quick said, describing the volume of water as unprecedented.

Earlier reports had said 14,000 houses had been inundated.

Homes were swamped to waist height as waters swept through the southeast, levelling fences and trees and tearing up roads. There were more than 5,000 calls for help, with more than 100 rescues.

"It's shocking, devastating, heart wrenching," said Charlton resident Peter Gretgrix. "It's just total devastation, some of the shops in the lowish area are just a mess, windows smashed out, it's terrible."

"I've never seen anything like it, (and) I'm 57," he added.

Devastated by the worst wildfires in Australia's history which killed 173 people just two years ago, parts of Victoria were now facing once-in-a-century flooding, with some towns having never experienced such inundation.

Soldiers were helping people evacuate from their homes while desperate sandbagging was under way in a number of towns, where a season's worth of rain had fallen in just one or two days, completely submerging some river gauges.

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 its 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. Five of the nation's seven states and territories have seen flooding since January 1.

The Queensland death toll climbed to 18 since January 10 on Sunday, with the discovery of two bodies in the ruined Lockyer Valley -- a middle-aged man under debris near a creek and an elderly woman in her Grantham home.

Date created : 2011-01-16

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