Hundreds airlifted to safety in flood disaster Australia

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The entire population of 300 people has been flown out of a town in eastern Australia by military helicopter as days of pouring rain culminated in severe flooding.

More than 1,000 people were evacuated from the town of Theodore and other parts of central and southern Queensland state, with swollen rivers there expected to rise higher in coming days.

Only a few police officers remained in Theodore, said county mayor Mareen Clancy.

"Certainly the water is still rising," the mayor said. "The heights are at such a new record it's not known what this is going to do."

Last night least two other Queensland towns – Emerald and Bundaberg – were also preparing to evacuate.

The state premier, Anna Bligh, launched a disaster relief fund for flood victims with $1m Australian (654,000) in state money.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard pledged to match that amount with federal funds.

Ms Gillard said: "We won't know until floodwaters recede the total amount of damage done but what this does mean is the Queensland and federal governments will work together in those areas in partnership with the rebuilding of critical infrastructure."

While days of heavy rain have eased, river levels continue to rise in many locations in the southern and central areas of the state as high waters make their way toward the sea. Communities downstream face days of uncertainty, the Meteorology Bureau has said.

Flooding has shut down about 300 roads across Queensland, including two major highways to the state capital Brisbane.

The head of the state's emergency agency, Bruce Grady, said the crisis would not pass quickly.

"These floodwaters are likely to remain high for a long period of time – in some cases that might be measured by weeks, rather than days," he said.

"These waters will go down when nature tells us they will go down."

The flooding is the worst the region has seen for decades.

The river in Theodore, where every building apart from the police station has flooded, has risen more than 50cm (1.6ft) above its previous recorded high.

Theodore farmer Keith Shoecraft said that vast areas of farmland were under water.

"This has been devastating for our town. That town will be completely isolated, empty," he said.

Mr Shoecraft said many farmers had stretched themselves financially but would be determined to survive.

"They're a pretty tough lot here, they won't leave. If their bank managers will keep giving them money they will keep trying and trying and trying."

In Bundaberg, residents in some areas were being advised to leave their homes as the Burnett River rose to danger levels. The river was expected to reach 7.5m (just over 24ft) – about 0.3m more than the previous high water record of 1954.

Inland towns such as Chinchilla and Dalby are all under water; the nearby town of Warra, and the towns of Alpha and Jericho, west of Emerald, have also been declared disaster zones, with hundreds of homes there flooded or at risk.

Media reports said Dalby was running low on drinking water supplies after its water treatment plant was damaged.

Further south, in New South Wales, about 175 people who had spent the night in evacuation centres had returned home.

But 800 people in the towns of Urbenville and Bonalbo were expected to be cut off for another 24 hours.

While the rain is now easing, water is continuing to flow from sodden land across central and southern Queensland into already swollen rivers.

Australia's Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said the worst was yet to come.

"Over the next 48 hours rain will be easing but the real impact in some communities won't be felt for a couple of days when floodwaters begin to recede," he said.

"Once the rain finishes there will still be significant flooding impacts over the next few days."

Farming groups says the floods could devastate crops, badly hitting an industry which was already suffering the effects of a lengthy drought.

650m blow to australian economy

The cost of the damage is expected to top $1bn Australian (650m), including massive losses of sunflower and cotton crops.

The floods are hitting businesses in Queensland, which is Australia's key coal-producing state and two of Australia's biggest coal export terminals – Dalrymple Bay and Gladstone Ports – together with Australia's top coal transporter QR National said they were cutting back on operations while the floods persisted.

Rio Tinto Group, the world's third-largest mining company, declared "force majeure" at four Queensland coal mines allowing it to miss deliveries because of circumstances beyond its control.