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January 03, 2011

Australian Flood Victims Warned of Snakes, Crocodiles

Authorities are warning residents of a coastal town in northeastern Australia to beware of snakes and crocodiles that may be lurking in floodwaters that have almost cut off the town from the outside world.

Some 500 homes have been evacuated in Rockhampton, a town of 75,000 people on the Fitzroy River, which is expected to crest at 9.4 meters by Wednesday or Thursday.  Military aircraft have been ferrying relief supplies to airfields north of the town, where the last major road remains open.  

Days of heavy rains have triggered floods that inundated more than 20 towns in the state of Queensland, affecting an area the size of Germany and France combined.  At least 10 people have been killed and  200,000 others are affected.  The flooding has closed dozens of coal mines and devastated crop fields.

Queensland's official in charge of community safety told VOA the damage is estimated in the billions of dollars, including hundreds of millions in lost production at coal mines in the state.  The official said it will take "a couple of years" for conditions to return to normal in some areas.

Australia is the world's biggest exporter of coking coal used in steel-making.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh told reporters that even if the rains ease, the flood waters will take weeks to recede.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed condolences for the loss of life and damage in Queensland, and said the U.S. stands ready to provide assistance.