Two dead, tens of thousands stranded by Australia floods

by Reuters
Saturday, 1 April 2017 04:17 GMT

Damaged and flooded areas can be seen from an Australian Army helicopter after Cyclone Debbie passed through the area near the town of Bowen, located south of the northern Queensland town of Townsville in Australia, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Gary Ramage/Pool

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Six large rivers have hit major flood levels and are still rising in several areas after Cyclone Debbie pounds east coast.

(Adds missing zero in "100,000 homes without power" in second paragraph)

SYDNEY, April 1 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Australians were stranded by floodwaters on Saturday after the remnants of a powerful cyclone swept along the country's east coast, cutting roads, destroying bridges and killing two people.

The disaster zone from ex-Cyclone Debbie stretched 1,000 km (600 miles) from Queensland state's tropical resort islands and Gold Coast tourist strip to the farmlands of New South Wales state, with more than 100,000 homes without power.

Six large rivers had hit major flood levels and were still rising in several areas, said the Bureau of Meteorology.

Flood sirens sounded in several towns, prompting stranded residents to climb onto roofs of flooded homes to await rescue, but fast-moving water and high winds hindered emergency crews reaching several areas.

Police said they recovered the bodies of two women from floodwaters late on Friday, the first reported deaths since Cyclone Debbie hit on Tuesday. One was found on a swamped property and the other retrieved by police divers from a car that had been swept off a flooded bridge.

Authorities fear more people may have died overnight as floodwaters continued to rise.

Cyclone Debbie, a category four storm, one short of the most powerful level five, pounded Queensland state on Tuesday, smashing tourist resorts, bringing down power lines and shutting down coal mines.

Debbie will hit Australia's A$1.7 trillion ($1.3 trillion) economy, with economists estimating it will slow growth to under 2 percent in the first quarter.

In the Bowen Basin, the world's single largest source of coal used in steel-making, Glencore said its mines were not damaged by the storm but restarting production depended on railways reopening.

Three of rail operator Aurizon's four railway lines in the region were closed and BHP, was assessing the extent of disruption to shipments.

Queensland's top insurers, Suncorp Group Ltd and RACQ, said it was too early to put a dollar figure on the damage.

(Reporting by Jane Wardell; Editing by Andrew Roche and Eric Meijer)

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