Tornadoes Hit Queensland as Rains Deluge Eastern Australia

Tornadoes in Australia’s Queensland state felled trees and power lines as ex-tropical cyclone Oswald dumped heavy rain and moved toward New South Wales bringing damaging winds and possible flooding.

The weather system is centered about 345 kilometers (214 miles) north-northwest of Brisbane and projected to accelerate tomorrow into New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, the Bureau of Meteorology said in an advisory. The Australian Defence Force is on standby to assist with the flood effort, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said today.

“Two helicopters have been tasked to assist the effort up in Bundaberg,” Newman said at a televised press conference in the state capital, Brisbane. “The people of Bundaberg are now this afternoon preparing for worse flooding than in 2010-2011.”

Queensland was devastated in February 2011 by Cyclone Yasi, which killed at least 35 people and contributed to floods throughout Australia’s eastern states that cost the nation’s economy A$9 billion ($9.4 billion) in lost output. Earlier this month, the country experienced record temperatures during a heatwave and battled wildfires in southern and eastern states.

Oswald’s flood waters submerged streets in Queensland towns, with television images showing inundated homes and upturned cars. Destructive winds gusting as high as 125 kilometers an hour and further tornadoes are likely for today and may cause damage to homes, the bureau of meteorology said. The Insurance Council of Australia declared a catastrophe for parts of the state.

Western Fires

The storm cut power to about 10,000 customers in the Bargara area near Bundaberg, 385 kilometers north of Brisbane, according to electricity provider Ergon Energy. A further 41,000 homes, including outer suburbs of the capital, are also without power, Energex said in an advisory.

As emergency services combat flooding on the east coast, firefighters are battling blazes in the west of the country. An alert is in place for the town of Gingin, 84 kilometers north of the Western Australian state capital of Perth.

Temperatures in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, reached a record of 45.8 degrees Celsius (114.4 degrees Fahrenheit) on Jan. 18 and a national average of 40.33 degrees Celsius was registered on Jan. 7, the hottest day in more than 100 years of records. The nation’s hot, dry climate makes bushfires a major risk in the southern hemisphere’s summer.

The worst fires in the nation’s history, the so-called Black Saturday blazes, killed 173 people as they swept through rural Victoria in February 2009.

Flood Watch

The New South Wales emergency service warned of flooding and damaging winds approaching the north of the state, in an advisory on its website, even as severe thunderstorms from another system hit southeastern and central areas overnight.

“We’ve got every river system from the Queensland border down to the Hunter on a major flood watch,” Steve Pearce, deputy commissioner of the New South Wales State Emergency Service, said in a televised interview. “It’s just a wait-and-see to see how quickly this front moves down into the New South Wales northern areas.”

Moderate to severe damage from Oswald has been experienced in communities from Cairns in Queensland’s north to the New South Wales border, Rob Whelan, chief executive officer of the Insurance Council of Australia, said in an e-mailed statement. Insurers have received several thousand claims and it’s too early to estimate losses, he said.

Cyclone Yasi

Yasi battered towns with winds stronger than Hurricane Katrina when it crossed the coast on Feb. 3, 2011, smashing homes and ripping through banana and sugar crops. The cyclone struck a state already inundated by floodwaters, which swamped about 15,000 properties in Brisbane, smashed roads and shuttered the city center.

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 Plc, the world’s biggest exporter of the commodity used in power stations.

Thermal coal at the port of Newcastle in New South Wales, a benchmark price for Asia, surged to $138.50 a metric ton in January 2011 after the storm crimped output and shipments. Prices have since declined and were at $91.15 last week, according to data from IHS McCloskey.

A two-day suspension on ship movements at the port of Gladstone, which was put in place because of extreme weather conditions whipped-up by the storm, was lifted today, an advisory from Maritime Safety Queensland said. Coal, alumina and aluminum are exported from the harbor, according to the port authority website.

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