Storms due in flood-hit Australia

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

Thunderstorms were forecast to soak the already flooded communities in north-eastern Australia, where residents in the path of another rising river were frantically filling sandbags for a makeshift levee against a predicted 46-foot peak.

More than 4,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in the flood zone, which encompasses an area larger than France and Germany combined. The United Nations offered its assistance to flood-ravaged communities and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon extended his condolences to the families affected.

The southern Queensland town of St George, which was devastated by a flood last March, was bracing for its Balonne River to peak at a record high by Sunday. About 10,000 sandbags had been packed and more were being filled on Thursday to protect the homes of the 2,500 residents.

“It’s not fair on people’s lives to have water tearing through their homes,” St George resident and Nationals party Sen Barnaby Joyce told Sky News.

The senator, who was packing sandbags in his hometown, said new dams were needed in the state to prevent future disasters. “It’s not good for our economy to be shut down and lose billions of dollars in production,” he said. “In the future I think we need to look at building dams to mitigate the effects of floods.”

Balonne regional Mayor Donna Stewart said that if the river peaks at 14 metres, only about 30 homes would be affected.

More than a week of pounding rains that started just before Christmas left much of north-eastern Australia under a sea of water that is making its way through river systems toward the ocean.

Around 1,200 homes in Queensland have been inundated, with another 10,700 suffering some damage.

In the state’s south-west, the 150 residents of the tiny community of Condamine had hoped to return home on Thursday, a week after they were airlifted to safety when the Condamine River reached a record 14.25 metres and inundated 42 of the 60 homes. But a storm that rolled in on Wednesday afternoon shut down highways and the forecast for rain through the weekend could delay their return.

The town has no electricity nor running water, and the schools and churches are also under water.

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