Woman killed as floods return to Australia

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The Independent Online

Flash floods swept through a north-eastern Australian community today, killing one woman, trapping others in cars and leaving some clinging to trees as relentless rains brought more misery to a region battling its worst flooding in decades.

The raging torrent of muddy water swamped the city of Toowoomba, west of the state capital Brisbane, killing one female pedestrian, a Queensland state police spokeswoman said.

Video taken at the scene showed a man clutching a tree as the gushing water swept down a street, pushing vehicles off the road, into each other and flinging one van into trees.

"We've had multiple calls requesting urgent assistance from people caught in vehicles, caught on the street, caught in flood ways," Queensland Deputy Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said. "This has just evolved. There has been no warning of this event."

It was the latest drama for the water-weary state, which has been devastated by weeks of pounding rains and overflowing rivers. Ten people have died since late November and about 200,000 have been affected by the floods. Roads and rail lines have been cut, Queensland's big-exporting coal mine industry has virtually shut down, and cattle ranching and farming across a large part of the state are at a standstill.

Muddy waters also flowed through the main street in the city of Gympie. Residents were frantically sandbagging buildings, but around a dozen businesses were inundated and dozens more were at risk as the Mary River burst its banks and kept rising.

The latest flooding was not as bad as in recent weeks, when entire towns were submerged beneath an inland sea the size of France and Germany combined. But it was a sign that the ground has little capacity left to soak up any more moisture, so any new rain is likely to make matters worse, officials said.

Some areas of Queensland have had more than 13in of rain in the past 24 hours, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

People in some of the affected communities have returned home and begun mopping up sludge left behind by the earlier floods, while others - including in the city of Rockhampton, home to 75,000 people - are still waiting for floodwaters to recede to start the clean-up.

Water levels remain stubbornly high in Rockhampton, and the mayor has warned weary residents evacuated two weeks ago that they face another week of waiting before it will be safe for them to return home. Muddy water is still sloshing through 400 houses and 150 businesses in the city.

Queensland officials have said the price of rebuilding homes, businesses and infrastructure, coupled with economic losses, could be as high as five billion dollars (£3.2bn).