Australia Faces Fires, Floods After Hot Summer

January 8, 2008

Australians battled both fires and some of the worst flooding in decades Monday that stranded residents in several communities after days of intense summer heat and storms.

Bureau of Meteorology hydrologist Gordon McKay said some parts of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, had experienced their worst floods in more than 50 years after a week of rain.

Those trapped included 1,000 music fans attending a four-day music festival in the state, officials said.

Floodwaters also isolated several communities in Queensland and the Northern Territory, which was lashed by a cyclone over the weekend, emergency services reported.

The major highway from the east to the west coast city of Perth remained closed Monday because of a blaze that remained out of control, eight days after three truck drivers died in an attempt to drive through a wall of fire.

Federal lawmaker Barry Haase, whose 2.3 million-square kilometer (890,000-square mile) Outback electorate is described as the largest in the world, called for the Great Eastern Highway to be reopened despite the danger so that interstate trade could resume.

But state official Peter Keppel said the fire, which has burned 45,000 hectares (111,200 acres) of scrubland since it started Dec. 28, remained dangerous.

With temperatures expected to reach 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit) Tuesday and northerly winds forecast, the fire could again cross the highway, he said.

Keppel also said thunderstorms predicted overnight could start more fires.

In southeast Australia, water-dropping aircraft were used Monday to attack a 10-hectare (25-acre) fire in steep terrain in a national park in Victoria state.

North of Victoria in New South Wales state, thousands of people might remain cut off by floods for up to a week, State Emergency Service spokesman Phil Campbell said. About 1,000 music fans attending the music festival near Tenterfield would remain trapped by a washed-away bridge until Tuesday, he said.

Further north in Queensland State, floodwaters were receding from weekend peaks. Emergency volunteers were being airlifted to Queensland farms isolated by floods to deliver supplies to stranded residents, the State Emergency Service reported.

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