Fires rage, floodwaters rise in Australia

February 7, 2009 12:00 am

, SYDNEY, February 7 – Flood waters were rising Saturday in northern Australia while more than 100,000 fire-fighters remained on standby as the country’s east sweltered under deadly wildfire conditions.

More than 40 blazes raged across two states as a heat wave pushed the mercury as high as 46 degrees Celsius.

Fire bans were in place across much of the southeast, with conditions said to be the worst since the Ash Wednesday wildfires of 1983, which killed 75 people and razed 2,500 homes.

Humidity in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, was forecast to plunge as low at 10 percent, with 70,000 fire-fighters on standby as high winds fuelled dozens of fires.

A 160 hectare (395 acre) inferno was burning out of control in the neighbouring state of Victoria, with flames as high as 10 metres (33 feet) jumping containment lines in high winds, authorities said.

Power lines supplying electricity to Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, were under threat and people in three nearby townships were being urged to either evacuate or prepare to join fire fighting efforts.

"People need to understand that this fire is a particularly serious one," said the environment department’s Stuart Ord.

"The flame heights will be something that they will not be able to stand themselves and have a bit of a go at."

More than 30,000 fire-fighters were on standby in Victoria state, where 29 homes were last week lost to fire. Another 10,000 were on high alert in the neighbouring state of South Australia.

The country’s saturated north was inundated overnight, with 350 millimetres of rain (14 inches) causing flash floods in the town of Innisfail and swelling engorged rivers.

Much of Queensland State has been declared a disaster zone, with an area of more than one million square kilometres and 3,000 homes flood-affected due to torrential rains caused by two recent cyclones.

The sugar cane and cattle industries have been devastated by the floods, with tens of thousands of stranded cows starving to death.

A tropical low off the north-eastern coast was fuelling the rains, which were being compounded by abnormally high "king tides" in the region, the weather bureau said.


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