Outback storm floods Australia, bushfires burn


  • World
  • Saturday, 20 Jan 2007

By Michael Perry

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia is living up to its iconic image as a sunburnt country of droughts and flooding rains, with a huge outback storm causing flooding in three states on Saturday as drought-fuelled bushfires continued burning. 

Monsoon rains over the country's vast interior have caused the usually dry Todd River in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to come to life and flooded outback South Australia state and parts of Victoria and New South Wales states. 

The small rural town of Oodnadatta in South Australia was flooded and most major roads leading to it closed to traffic by rising waters, emergency service officials said. 

Sister Joan Wilson at the Oodnadatta Hospital said medical supplies were running low. 

"If we don't get the supplies through in the next couple of days, some people may be in a bit of pain," she told reporters. 

The flooding prevented the Royal Flying Doctor service, the outback's medical lifeline, from reaching the town. 

Many remote cattle properties in South Australia were also cut off, but farmers battling the worst drought in 100 years welcomed the rains. 

"I am sure there will be a lot of pastoralists around here rubbing their hands together with glee," said Trevor McLeod, a local government officer in the opal mining centre of Coober Pedy, another flooded South Australian town. 

Cattle property owner Dean Rasheed said the rain was the heaviest to hit South Australia's Flinders Ranges in living memory and would bring his dry land back to life. 

"I'm looking at the largest flood I've seen in my lifetime and I'm getting on in years, so it's very significant," Rasheed told Australian Associated Press news agency. 

"The water is 200 metres wide and four metres deep." 

As the outback storm moved east across Australia it caused flooding in Victoria, which has been battling bushfires for more than 50 days, and also the state of New South Wales. 

Fires have struck five of Australia's six states since November, blackening more than 1.2 million hectares (4,600 square miles) of bushland, killing one and gutting dozens of homes. 

MEGAFIRES 

Some have been "megafires", created in part by global warming and a drought which has provided an abundance of fuel, stretching thousands of kilometres. 

Rain in Victoria's north and east on Saturday eased bushfire threats, but failed to douse the large fires, and left the Victorian towns of Mildura and Stawell flooded, with rising waters inundating shops and stranding motorists. 

Weather forecaster Ward Rooney said he could not remember when Victoria last reported such contrasting extreme weather conditions. "It's a large bundle of warnings altogether, a combination you wouldn't see too often," said Rooney. 

Across the border in New South Wales, favourable weather conditions on Saturday saved the alpine resort of Thredbo from a nearby bushfire, with lower temperatures and rain from the outback storm expected on Sunday. 

But in the far west of New South Wales, rain caused flooding in the mining town of Broken Hill, forcing residents to sandbag homes to stop water entering. Roads around the town were cut. 

Australia's weather bureau said this month that the country appeared to be suffering from an accelerated climate change brought about by global warming. 

While the heavily populated southeast experiences its worst drought for a generation, the tropics and remote northwest are receiving unseasonally heavy rains accounting for more than Australia's yearly total average. 

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