Floods pile further misery on Australia

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The Independent Online

Flooding rivers and heavy rains cut off towns, stopped mining operations and damaged crops in three Australian states today - one week after devastating bushfires swept the country's southeast killing 200 people.

The tropical state of Queensland has been battling major floods since December 2008, with 62 per cent of the state underwater, after a series of storms and a tropical cyclone.

The damage bill in Queensland is estimated at A$210m (£94m) and the floods are not expected to subside for another month, emergency services in the state said today.

Scientists say climate change will bring not only warmer temperatures to Australia, and as a result more droughts and bushfires, but also more extreme weather like tropical storms that cause floods.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is expected to come under pressure to introduce a tougher climate policy later this year as a result of the nation's deadliest bushfires last Saturday and the subsequent flooding.

Thousands of cattle are estimated to have perished during the Queensland floods, which have also cut off roads and swamped properties across the state's remote northern regions.

"There have been losses (of livestock) and they are potentially in the thousands, but until people can get around nobody is putting a figure on it," AgForce chief executive Andrew Freeman told local media.

People in Queensland have been warned to be on the lookout for crocodiles and snakes in floodwaters.

A five-year-old boy was taken by a crocodile earlier this month after he followed his dog into floodwaters at Cape Tribulation.

He disappeared in the water and his brother saw a large crocodile near where he was last seen, a police statement said.

Australia is the world's third biggest sugar exporter and sugar farmers in Queensland, who produce 95 per cent of the crop, are facing substantial losses. The extent of the damage will not be known until floodwaters recede.

Heavy rain and flooding forced mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd/Plc to suspend iron ore mining and rail haulage today over a large part of the Pilbara region in Western Australia state.

All operations at the company's Pannawonica, Brockman and Nammuldi mines have been halted, and pit mining at Tom Price and Paraburdoo have also been brought to a standstill, it said.

Flooding along the 50 mile road separating Rio's two main ports at Dampier and Cape Lambert made it difficult to fully assess the impact the bad weather was having on operations that unload up to a half-million tonnes of ore daily.

A low depression storm off the east coast caused heavy rains today in New South Wales state, flooding rivers and isolating towns. "Some of the towns are the wettest they have been in 20 to 30 years," said a weather official.

The outback town of Bourke, in drought last week, has recorded 232 mm of rain in recent days, more than two-thirds of its annual rain. While the coastal town of Bellingen was cut off today after receiving 323 mm in 24 hours.

"Both sides of the town are flooded," said the manager of the Diggers Tavern in Bellingen.