Storms batter flood-hit Australia

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Floodwaters are seen in the Depot Hill district of Rockhampton, Australia (AP)

New thunderstorms brought more pounding rains to a waterlogged coastal community in north-eastern Australia as a mayor said it could take a year to fully recover from the worst flooding in decades.

But the good news for the nearly 200,000 exhausted flood victims was that the crisis finally appeared to be easing.

Despite the fresh rains, an overflowing river in the inundated city of Rockhampton began slowly receding. The swollen Fitzroy River has spilled on to 3,000 properties throughout the city, leaving 200 homes with muddy water above the floorboards.

Four thousand people across Queensland have been evacuated from their homes since pounding rains that began just before Christmas left much of the region under a sea of water. Around 1,200 homes have been inundated, with another 10,700 suffering some damage in the flood zone, which spans an area greater than France and Germany combined.

Rains across Queensland were frustrating clean-up crews and residents eager to return home. In Rockhampton, however, Bureau of Meteorology hydrologist Ian Rocca said the rainfall was not expected to push water levels higher in the Fitzroy River.

“It’s very good news,” mayor Brad Carter said. “It looks like it’s peaked, it’s plateaued and it’s showing signs of dropping.”

But he warned that the city of 75,000 was in for a long recovery period, with 500 evacuated residents being urged to stay away for at least two more weeks. A full clean-up of homes and businesses with water damage would take much longer, he said. “I think that this could drag on for 12 months,” he said.

Elsewhere in Queensland, some communities were beginning the slow process of mopping up, while others were preparing for another deluge.

The southern Queensland town of St George, which was devastated by a flood last March, was expecting its Balonne River to peak early next week. About 10,000 sandbags had been packed and more were being filled today to protect the homes of the 2,500 residents.

But the Bureau of Meteorology said the river was expected to peak below its earlier predicted level, meaning fewer than 30 homes faced water damage.

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