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Monday, January 3, 2011

Military Flights Race To Flood-Hit Rockhampton Australia town of 75,000 people completely stranded

Rising floodwaters spread across the runway of the airport at Rockhampton, in eastern Queensland.
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Military Flights Race To Flood-Hit Australian City

Military flights rushed Monday to restock an Australian city before it was cut off by floodwaters that have turned a huge swath of the Outback into a lake, while police confirmed two more deaths in the crisis.

Drenching rain that started before Christmas has flooded an area the size of France and Germany combined in northeastern Queensland state. Rivers are overflowing and at least 22 towns and cities in the farming region are inundated.

In the coastal city of Rockhampton, waters from the still-swelling Fitzroy River closed the airport and cut the main highway to the state capital of Brisbane. Scores of families abandoned their homes for relief centers on high ground.

By Monday night, floodwaters had inundated the last route into the city, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said.

"Rockhampton is now completely stranded — a town of 75,000 people — no airport, rail or road," Bligh told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Residents emptied supermarket shelves of food and bottled water in recent days as they stocked up to reduce the need to get around in waist-deep waters.

Acting Defense Minister Warren Snowdon said a C-130 military cargo plane would fly to a town north of Rockhampton on Monday carrying food, medical supplies and other items that would then be trucked to the stricken city.

Authorities have warned the Fitzroy will continue rising until late Tuesday or early Wednesday local time.

Mayor Brad Carter has said about 40 percent of the city could be affected by the surging waters, and residents could be forced to wait at least two weeks before returning home.

State authorities say about 200,000 people have been affected by the floods, Australia's worst in a decade, and Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday extended emergency relief to those affected, including low-interest loans to farmers to begin cleaning up and get their businesses running again.
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