Parts of eastern Australia have been declared disaster zones after severe storms forced at least 15,000 people to evacuate their homes. The states of Queensland and New South Wales were battered as powerful winds of up to 130 kmph (80 mph) tore roofs from houses and flood waters cut off entire towns, reports said. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) said the powerful winds and heavy rain are forecast to continue into the weekend. The Insurance Council of Australia said the severe weather has triggered 1,500 claims so far but the number is expected to rise if the adverse weather conditions persist.
The Queensland government declared a natural disaster zone in southeastern areas of the state on 21 May. Winds of 120 kmph (75 mph) were recorded in Queensland, damaging roofs and downing power lines, but reports said the bulk of the damage resulted from days of heavy rain that triggered what officials described the worst flooding since 1974. Beerburrum, between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, recorded more than 300mm (12 inches) of rain in 24 hours, while parts of Brisbane recorded rainfall of more than 250mm (10 inches). Flood warnings were also issued for the Tweed, Brunswick, Richmond, Wilsons, Clarence, Bellinger, and Nambucca rivers.
The State Emergency Service (SES) took more than 2,300 calls for assistance in Queensland, with crews handling mostly roof repairs and flood damage. Officials said the flooding damaged several homes and businesses, swept away cars and triggered several landslides. Around 75,000 homes and businesses in Queensland suffered blackouts and more than 100 people were rescued. Officials said areas affected by the severe weather included the Sunshine Coast, the Gold Coast and areas west to, and including, the Toowoomba region. One person was killed by flying debris in Surfers Paradise while homes in Brisbane were evacuated. The town of Ipswich was almost completely cut off, with floodwaters closing the Ipswich Motorway and most alternative routes. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh warned the damage bill from the severe weather could be among the highest ever seen in the state.
The weather system subsequently moved south into New South Wales, causing widespread damage here too. Powerful winds ripped roofs from buildings and downed power lines while heavy rain and flooding caused widespread damage, prompting New South Wales Premier Nathan Rees to declare a natural disaster on 22 May. The Tweed, Byron, Ballina, Lismore, Kyogle, Richmond Valley and Clarence Valley local government areas have been listed as disaster zones. Officials said up to 405 mm (16 inches) of rain fell in some of these areas over the 72 hours while wind gusts of up to 130 kmph (80 mph) were recorded.
Authorities have ordered more than 5,000 people to leave their homes in the town of Lismore in New South Wales, as widespread flooding has isolated much of the area and cut off communities further south. In the nearby town of Grafton, meanwhile, almost 10,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes as the Clarence River is very close to overtopping. A spokesman for SES said it had received around 2,000 requests for assistance across northern New South Wales in 72 hours. The BoM warned the severe weather is forecast to continue into the weekend.
Sources: Agence France Presse, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australian Associated Press, Herald-Sun, The Australian, Daily Telegraph, The Advertiser, AAP Bulletins, Dow Jones International News, Associated Press
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