Floods Leave Four Dead as Storm Lashes Australian Coast

Heavy rain and destructive winds are lashing the eastern coast of Australia after floods caused by ex-tropical cyclone Oswald left four people dead in Queensland state, inundated thousands of homes and disrupted coal output.

The storm system is tracking south through New South Wales, with damaging gusts forecast to reach more than 125 kilometers (78 miles) per hour, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. About 1,000 people were evacuated late yesterday from the Queensland town of Bundaberg and authorities said they plan to move patients from the local hospital today.

Australian troops are assisting with rescue efforts in Queensland and New South Wales, which account for about half the nation’s economy and experienced about A$9 billion ($9.4 billion) in lost output when they were hit by flooding and Cyclone Yasi in 2011. Other states are still battling wildfires after record temperatures earlier this month.

“The thoughts of all Australians are with those Queenslanders that have been hit hard, particularly those that have been impacted on top of the devastation two short years ago,” said Treasurer Wayne Swan, who hails from the northern state.

Brisbane Flooding

More than 3,000 properties were inundated in Queensland’s state capital Brisbane, where the river burst its banks in 2011 destroying roads and bridges.

“It’s an unprecedented event,” Queensland Police Minister Jack Dempsey, who is the local member for Bundaberg, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television in an interview from the town. “At the present time it’s priority of life, then property.”

The Insurance Council of Australia declared a catastrophe for parts of Queensland, where waters upturned cars and flooded streets. Oswald caused moderate-to-severe damage in communities from Cairns in Queensland’s north to the New South Wales border, Chief Executive Officer Rob Whelan said in a statement. About 5,050 claims have been made so far with estimated insurance losses of A$43 million, according to the body.

Flight Cancellations

Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. canceled about 19 flights today and Qantas Airways Ltd. budget unit Jetstar scrapped flights to the Gold Coast in Queensland and Ballina in northern New South Wales

Swan told Sky News that costs associated with the floods and bushfires would have an impact on the federal budget. He said it was too early to consider whether taxpayers should help cover the cost of the disasters with a special levy.

Four people have been killed in Queensland, including a 27-year-old man who was swept away by floodwaters and a three-year-old boy struck by a falling tree, according to state police.

The flooding affected mines and railways in Queensland, the world’s biggest source of coal used by steelmakers.

Anglo American Plc said some of its Australian coal operations had been disrupted and it’s monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of employees, according to an e-mailed statement yesterday.

Aurizon Holdings Ltd., the coal haulage company formerly known as QR National Ltd., said crews are working to assess damage to the Central Queensland Coal Network, where the Blackwater and Moura rail systems remain closed. The Newlands and Goonyella systems are operating normally, the company said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

Coal Operations

Xstrata Plc, the world’s biggest shipper of thermal coal, said its mines hadn’t been materially affected, while acknowledging the rail disruption in an e-mailed response to questions. Yancoal Australia Ltd. said in a regulatory statement that production at its Middlemount open cut mine would be affected for at least three weeks after a levee bank was breached, while normal operations are expected to resume this week at its Yarrabee mine.

Newcastle Port Corp. operations are returning to normal today after it advised five coal ships and one other vessel to move their anchorages further out to sea as a precaution at the weekend, spokesman Keith Powell said by telephone.

The Hay Point, Dalrymple and Abbot Point coal terminals in Queensland resumed operations, port agent Gulf Agency Co. said yesterday in an e-mail. The state accounts for about 50 percent of global coking-coal shipments.

Coal prices surged in 2011 as heavy rainfall and flooding from Yasi engulfed mines and crimped production from companies including Rio Tinto Group and Xstrata.

Queensland may see some cotton crop losses due to the flooding, particularly in the Darling Downs region, Commonwealth Bank of Australia said in an e-mailed note.

Electricity provider Energex said on its website that about 158,000 people were without power.

Temperatures in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, reached a record of 45.8 degrees Celsius (114.4 degrees Fahrenheit) on Jan. 18. A national average of 40.33 degrees was registered on Jan. 7, the hottest day in more than 100 years of records.

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