Thousands evacuate Australian floods

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The Independent Online

Thousands more people in Australia's flood-hit east were told to leave their homes yesterday as gale-force winds lashed the coast and emergency services said up to 20,000 people had been cut off.

One man has died and dozens have been rescued from rising waters after days of rain and cyclonic winds left thousands of hectares of northern New South Wales state under water.

Over the past few days floodwaters have washed cars into the sea and huge waves have pounded major ports, including the world's biggest coal export port at Newcastle, where ship movements were disrupted.

Floodwaters have engulfed homes, and beaches all along the state's northern coast have been shut as they were lashed by winds of up to 50 mph. Several swollen rivers have burst their banks.

"There would be thousands of hectares of the coastal plains under water at the moment," said a spokesman for the State Emergency Service. "We have got seven or eight rivers involved at the moment."

A 70-year-old man cut off by floodwaters was found dead in his car today after rescuers were unable to reach him, emergency officials said. More than 30 other people have been rescued, some by helicopter.

Emergency officials estimated that 16,000-20,000 people had been cut off by the floodwaters, which were expected to peak overnight.

Evacuation orders for five more communities were issued on Saturday, including around 2,000 in the town of Kempsey, 220 miles north of Sydney, after residents were ordered out of two other towns earlier.

Natural disasters have been declared in seven areas, unlocking government aid, and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has pledged support.