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Australia's Victoria Evacuates Towns as Brisbane Cleans Up After Flooding

The southeastern Australian state of Victoria evacuated five more townships as rivers swelled to record levels, while traffic returned to roads in Queensland’s capital of Brisbane as residents struggled to cope with the aftermath of flooding that has gripped the nation for weeks.

Some 1,700 homes in 58 Victorian towns were hit by flooding, with Horsham north of Melbourne the worst affected today, the State Emergency Service said. Police today found the body of an eight-year-old boy who fell into a stream bed in the state’s northwest yesterday, a statement said.

“Our thoughts are with everybody who is dealing with this emerging flood crisis in Victoria,” Prime Minister Julia Gillard told reporters today in Melbourne. “You feel great sorrow for peoples’ loss but also a sense of determination about working with them in the rebuild.”

In the sugar- and coal-producing state of Queensland in northeastern Australia, the death toll from the latest deluges could be as high as 32, Premier Anna Bligh said. The Bureau of Meteorology this afternoon issued a severe thunderstorm warning for southeast Queensland, forecasting heavy rain, hailstones and damaging winds.

Flooding in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales represents Australia’s biggest natural disaster in economic terms, Gillard said yesterday. Queensland’s deluge alone will trim national first-quarter gross domestic product by 0.8 percent, National Australia Bank Ltd. said.

Flood warnings were in place for 13 Victoria state rivers, the Bureau of Meteorology said in a statement. The State Emergency Service said 4,000 residents had been affected. The national government will provide further assistance for victims in Victoria, Gillard said.

Business Helps

A business task force, including Linfox Group founder Lindsay Fox, will leverage corporate donations and help rebuild Queensland after almost seven weeks of floods devastated homes, destroyed crops and closed mines.

Wesfarmers Ltd. today contributed A$5 million ($4.96 million) to Bligh’s relief appeal, Xstrata Plc doubled its donation to A$2 million. Flight Centre Ltd. pledged A$2 million, ConocoPhillips A$1 million, Vale SA A%500,000 and Pfizer Australia Pty Ltd. gave A$250,000.

“There’s already been an opening of hearts and wallets from corporate Australia to help Queensland flood recovery and rebuilding, but given the scale of this disaster we need to do more,” Gillard said.

Bligh, 50, yesterday created an independent commission to examine the floods. The commission will deliver its interim findings in August, with a final report by January 2012, according to the state government.

Attention in Queensland is turning to kick-starting the local economy and reopening for business. In downtown Brisbane, companies including Macarthur Coal Ltd. and Virgin Blue Holdings Ltd. have said they plan to restart operations this week.

Brisbane Traffic Returns

“The traffic is returning to the roads this morning,” Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman told Sky News today. “Roads are reopening as we try to get things back to normal.”

Queensland, Australia’s largest coal exporter, accounts for about 20 percent of the nation’s A$1.3 trillion economy. The deluge may cost insurers and reinsurers worldwide as much as $6 billion, according to Milan Simic, managing director of catastrophe modeler AIR Worldwide.

Brisbane City Council is offering free tetanus vaccinations this week to flood-hit residents and volunteers who are helping clean up as concern mounts about the risk of infection from the stinking brown residue left by flood waters.

-With assistance from Angus Whitley and Nichola Saminather in Sydney. Editors: Iain Wilson, Brendan Murray

To contact the reporter on this story: Gemma Daley in Canberra at gdaley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg in Hong Kong at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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