Australia set for more flooding after deluge hits Queenslanders

Military aircraft dropped supplies to towns cut off by floods in north-east Australia containing some of the 200,000 people affected in an area larger than France and Germany combined.

Residents of Queensland were stocking up on food or evacuating their homes yesterday as rising rivers swamped or isolated 22 towns in the state.

Prime minister Julia Gillard toured an evacuation centre in the flood-stricken town of Bundaberg and announced that families whose homes had been flooded or damaged would be eligible for disaster relief payments of A$1,000 (655) for an adult and A$400 for a child.

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"My concern is for the people in these very difficult times," Ms Gillard said.

A day earlier, she pledged A$1 million in federal aid to match a relief fund already set up by the state government.

Bundaberg resident Sandy Kiddle told Ms Gillard she lost cherished items after floodwaters surged through her house. She feared she may not be able to return home for a week.

"It was just a sea of water, and I thought the beach would never come to our house," she told the premier, who gave her a hug.

Officials say half of Queensland's 715,305 square miles is affected by the relentless flooding, which began last week after days of pounding rain caused swollen rivers to overflow.

While the rain has stopped, the rivers are still surging to new heights and overflowing into low-lying towns as the water makes its way toward the sea.

The muddy water inundating thousands of homes and businesses has led to a shortage of drinking water and raised fears of mosquito-borne disease.

"This is without a doubt a tragedy on an unprecedented scale," Queensland premier Anna Bligh said.

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Ms Bligh warned that communities could be flooded for more than a week, and clean-up efforts were expected to cost billions of dollars.

The Department of Community Safety said supplies of food and bedding were delivered by road and by military aircraft yesterday to the towns of Rockhampton, Emerald, Springsure and Blackwater in eastern Queensland.

North-eastern Australia often sees heavy rains and flooding during the Southern Hemisphere summer, but the scope of the damage from the recent downpours is unusual.

The entire population of two towns has already been forced to flee as water swamped their communities, cutting off roads and devastating crops. The next city in the flood's path - Rockhampton, near the coast - is braced for water levels up to 31ft by Monday or Tuesday.

Roads and railway lines were expected to be cut off today, and the city's airport planned to shut down over the weekend.

"This is a very serious situation," said Rockhampton mayor Brad Carter, saying that the flood level would affect up to 40 per cent of the city. "Police are ordering people in affected areas to leave their homes."

There were concerns over food supplies in the city, with many shops already sold out of bread, milk and fresh meat, Mr Carter said.

In the southern states of Victoria and South Australia, meanwhile, soaring temperatures and tinder dry conditions have sparked bushfires.

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Authorities warned of possible "catastrophic" fires if conditions worsened and visitors to the area were asked to prepare a plan of escape.