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Australia State Orders Evacuations as Floods Claim First Victim

Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, ordered evacuations as river levels surged and a man was drowned in floods triggered by rainstorms across the nation’s east coast.

Residents of three New South Wales western communities received evacuation orders as the Murrumbidgee River is forecast to reach “major flood level” of 9.6 meters (31.5 feet) tonight and peak near 10 meters, the State Emergency Service said.

The body of an 81-year-old man in the northern state of Queensland was recovered late yesterday after his utility vehicle was swept away in a causeway in the Rockhampton area, state police said. Queensland emergency services used boats to evacuated nine people in the central region.

The floods, which have damaged Australia’s winter crops and driven up global wheat prices, are part of a La Nina event that cools the Pacific Ocean and increases rainfall. The impact on the nation’s agricultural industry may prompt a revision to third-quarter economic growth, the Australian newspaper reported.

Rains are likely to affect grain quality for crops such as wheat, barley, canola, chickpeas and lupins, according to New South Wales Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan. He estimated A$500 million ($497 million) was wiped off the state’s forecast A$3.2 billion winter harvest.

The state emergency service said access to the New South Wales community of North Wagga Wagga may be cut today and rising river levels threaten the levee in the area.

Locust Swarms

Floods have begun to ease in Queensland and the southern state of Victoria, according to local emergency services. Victorian farmers are now facing a swarm of locusts that the state Department of Primary Industries says could be the worst plague in 75 years.

Swarms have been reported at Charlton, Echuca, St Arnaud, Quambatook and Wycheproof, with some stretching up to 25 kilometers (16 miles), the department said.

State Locust Director Stephen Nee said the swarms have the potential to move quickly into other areas.

“Locust swarms can be unpredictable, but with warmer weather forecast in the state’s north this weekend, it’s expected that greater numbers of locusts may start to fly,” he said in a statement. “We urge motorists to take care as swarms can impact on visibility when driving.”

Australia’s agricultural industry expanded 18.5 percent last quarter, driven by “strong crop forecasts,” the Bureau of Statistics said last week in a report that showed the economy expanded 0.2 percent from three months earlier. That was the worst performance since a contraction at the end of 2008.

‘Negative Change’

Mick Keogh, executive director of the Australian Farm Institute, said that if the data “for agriculture were corrected for the loss of value in the crop sector due to the rain, it is highly likely Australia would have experienced negative change in GDP for the quarter,” The Australian newspaper reported yesterday.

Wheat futures for March delivery jumped 30.5 cents, or 4.1 percent, to settle at $7.79 a bushel at 1:15 p.m. on the Chicago Board of Trade on Dec. 3, after touching $7.82, the highest for a most-active contract since Aug. 6. Prices were up 13 percent for the week, the most since early August.

Futures have surged since the end of June, as drought in Russia and floods in Canada cut output, while dry weather in the U.S. Great Plains threatened winter crops.

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