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Australia Forces Evacuations of Flood Victims

An aerial view shows properties and houses inundated by floodwaters in the Queensland town of Emerald, 900 km (560 miles) north-west of Brisbane, 31 Dec 2010

Australian rescue workers have started forced evacuations of thousands of people stranded by the vast flooding that has inundated 22 towns in the northeast state of Queensland.

Police on Friday moved the elderly and those living in low-lying areas from Rockhampton, where 4,000 homes are at risk from the flooding. Overall, more than 200,000 people have been affected by the rising waters in an area that is bigger than France and Germany combined.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard toured the flood-stricken coastal city of Bundaberg, consoling and hugging victims. She promised them financial assistance, with each adult eligible for $1,016 in disaster relief aid and children $406 apiece.

While some flood victims evacuated, military aircraft dropped supplies to towns cut off by the flooding caused by torrential rains over the last two weeks. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh described the flooding as "unprecedented" and warned that some communities could remain underwater for more than a week.

Northeastern Australia often sees heavy rains and flooding during the Southern Hemisphere summer. But the devastation this time is unusual, with officials saying the flooding is the worst in 50 years or more.

Tony Riccardi, Bundaberg's deputy mayor, told VOA the city has been inundated by more than 76 centimeters of rain since October. Riccardi said about 400 homes have been evacuated, and more than a dozen boats docked at the marina have sunk or been washed out to sea. In Rockhampton, officials are predicting that the flood levels could reach more than nine meters by early next week.

Still, Ms. Gillard said the "overwhelming sentiment" for Australians combating the flooding is "one of resilience." She said they "look after each other" during such disasters.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.