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Flooding Forces Mass Evacuations In Australia

Flooding caused by torrential rains and swelling rivers has forced the evacuation of thousands residents in north-eastern Australia, as entire towns and villages in the region were inundated by rising flood waters.

Unabated rains have prompted the state government of Queensland to declare several of its regions as disaster zones, including the towns of Theodore, Chinchilla, Dalby, Alpha, Jericho and Warra. The move is intended to give the state powers to evacuate residents in the affected region by force if necessary.

The floods, caused most by the swelling of rivers due to heavy rains, have destroyed thousands of hectars of sunflower and cotton crops in the affected region. The rising flood waters have forced thousands to flee their homes and businesses voluntarily in central and southern Queensland.

Local authorities have evacuated hundreds of residents from their flooded towns using military helicopters, as flood waters have cut off most roads in the region. Most of those airlifted to safety were residents of Theodore town.

Presently, most of Theodore is under water, with the Dawson River flowing above the 14-meter level--its highest in more than 50 years. Similarly, Queensland's capital Brisbane has witnessed its wettest December in more than 150 years.

Though the floods have forced evacuations in the neighboring state of New South Wales as well, the floods there are expected to recede in the coming hours. But authorities have warned that the situation in Queensland would remain unchanged at least for a couple of days.

The floods hit the region after almost ten years of drought. They were triggered by heavy rains accompanying tropical cyclone Tasha, which lashed Australia's north-eastern region on Saturday before fading quickly.

The rains, still continuing in certain parts of Queensland, have swelled up rivers and flooded hundreds of farms and homes in the region. Authorities believe that it would take days for the flood waters to reach the sea.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a statement on Tuesday that two military Blackhawk helicopters were sent to Queensland to help in evacuation efforts, adding that the country's defense forces "are on stand-by to offer further support if required."

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