Mon, Jan 24, 2011
'Amazing' Australian floodwaters enter new towns

MELBOURNE - Surging flood waters broke levees in disaster-hit Australia on Monday to inundate more properties in the southeast, as residents sandbagged homes against the spiralling crisis.

Swollen rivers in the southeastern state of Victoria have created a flood zone measuring an estimated 90 kilometres long and 40 kilometres wide, the State Emergency Service said.

"This area has seen unprecedented flooding," SES spokesman Kevin Monk told AFP. "This is just amazing."

As the floodwaters rushed towards the Murray River, evacuation alerts were issued late Sunday and early Monday for the small communities of Pental Island and Murrabit West, home to about 400 people each.

In an emergency alert the SES said that levees around Murrabit West were failing and water was entering the area, warning that the region would be inundated in the next 12 hours.

"They are being flooded now," Monk told AFP. "It's across properties. If they haven't sandbagged them, there may be some impacts on people's housing."

The Victoria floods stem from La Nina-provoked torrential rains which hit the state mid-January and followed weeks of intense floods to the north which killed at least 30 people and devastated mining and farming Queensland state.

As Queensland begins the massive recovery phase, Victoria is dealing with a record-breaking deluge which has so far affected more than 1,700 properties in the rural northwest of the state.

Emergency officials have been preparing for potential flooding along the Murray River - a vital lifeline in the southeast which had been hard hit by the recent protracted drought - since record rainfalls in mid-January.

"Some people had their year's rainfall in a week," Monk said. "It's heading where it's got to head - it's got to head towards the Murray."

Meanwhile the regional centre of Swan Hill was bracing for floodwaters to peak on Thursday or Friday.

Residents, who have been isolated for days by the floodwaters, were sandbagging along the river but officials at this stage expected the levees surrounding the town to hold.

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