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Deadly floods hit eastern Australia, cause mass evacuations

Workers clear water from the banks of the overflowing Parramatta river in Sydney on Feb 23, 2022, after heavy rain lashed eastern Australia, causing flash flooding and a string of emergency warnings up and down the Pacific coast. (Photo by AFP)

At least four people have been killed and several others are missing as torrential downpours unleashed decades-high floods in eastern Australia.

Authorities in the eastern state of Queensland said on Saturday that two people have been killed overnight, bringing the death toll from the severe flooding to four since early this week. They also issued 11 emergency alerts in 24 hours.

"In some parts of southeast Queensland, this is the biggest event that they will see in a number of decades," state police and emergency services minister Mark Ryan said, adding that the rain has not stopped and in fact there are some parts where it is intensifying.

Images broadcast on Australian media showed homes and roads swamped, areas of land transformed into lakes and a large chunk of a concrete pier floating down a fast-running river.

The waters snatched the car of a team of four emergency services workers who were heading to rescue a family from their flooded home, state police disaster coordinator Steve Gollschewski said.

"The vehicle in which they were travelling was swept off the road into floodwaters. Three of our members were rescued. One of those members is deceased," Gollschewski told a news conference.

Elsewhere, another man's body was found overnight.

The Queensland town of Gympie was facing a "hell of a lot of water" as the Mary River rose, Gympie Mayor Glen Hartwig was quoted as saying by national broadcaster ABC.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the Mary River could rise above 21 meters (69 feet) at Gympie. It may exceed levels last seen there in February 1999, the bureau of meteorology said.

As a precaution, Queensland would be issuing evacuation alerts, notably targeting about 700 residents in the Gympie area, the premier said. "If we don't do this now people will become isolated and trapped," she warned.

Emergency services had responded to more than 1,800 calls for help in 24 hours in southeast Queensland, officials said.

More than 250 people were in evacuation centers as of Saturday morning.

Rainfall in some areas of the state had exceeded records going back decades, said senior Queensland meteorologist David Grant.

He predicted further rain on Sunday as the weather system moved away more slowly than had been anticipated.

"There is now going to be an increased risk of dangerous and life-threatening flash flooding, and even the potential for localized landslides," he told a news conference.

Heavy rain also hit the state capital Brisbane.

"Essentially we've seen a month's worth of rainfall fall in one day for just Brisbane alone," Grant said.

Rescuers undertook 132 rescues in swift water conditions in 24 hours, said Greg Leach, Queensland's commissioner for fire and emergency services.

"Our catchments are completely saturated. Our rivers are rising. We have flash flooding. Now is not the time to be out in southeast Queensland if you don't have to be," Leach said.

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