Australia faces weather woes with southern storms

The tail end of one of Australia’s largest cyclones was felt at the other end of the country on Saturday, as wild storms lashed Melbourne with destructive winds and flash flooding.

Many parts of Australia have suffered a summer of awful weather, including pounding rains across north-eastern Queensland state that caused the nation’s worst flooding in decades, killing 35 people and causing an estimated $5,6-billion damage.

The tropical low that was Cyclone Yasi, which hit the north-east earlier this week, was active over central Australia and making a series of thunderstorms over the southern city of Melbourne and other large towns in Victoria state much worse, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

More than 175 millimetres of rain fell in just a few hours overnight on Friday in some Melbourne neighbourhoods and winds gusting to 130km/h knocked down trees, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Drains were overwhelmed, causing flash flooding that covered streets and swamped some homes. The State Emergency Service said 84 people were rescued from cars that stalled in flooded streets, or from inundated properties.

A 26-year-old English tourist was taken to a hospital after part of a tree fell on the tent she was camping in, SES spokesman David Tucek said.

Towns in the north-west of the state were also hit by the bad weather, which was a combination of the remnants of Yasi and a series of powerful storm cells in the south-east, the bureau said.

Yasi ripped across the coast near Cairns on Wednesday night, ripping apart dozens of homes and damaging hundreds more, cutting power to tens of thousands of people and flattening millions of dollars worth of crops. Just one death was reported.

Residents and officials were amazed the death toll was not higher.
The storm thrashed the coast with up to 280km/h winds and sent waves crashing ashore two blocks into seaside communities, as tens of thousands of people huddled in evacuation centres.

Electricity and phone service were gradually being restored, and about 4 000 troops were marshalled to help clear roads of downed trees, power lines and twisted metal roofs torn from homes. Efforts were hampered by drenching rain in many parts of the disaster zone.

Because Australia’s far north-east is sparsely populated, Yasi, despite its size, didn’t hit any major cities as it charged across the continent. But the isolation was making cleanup more difficult, as authorities struggled to reach out-of-the-way towns.

The government has warned that the damage from Yasi will significantly add to the damage bill the country is facing because of the floods, but that it is too early to put a figure on the amount. - Sapa-AP

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