Australian floods force thousands from their homes

Sun Feb 5, 2012 11:36pm EST

* One dead in flooding, thousands evacuated

* Coal industry largely unaffected by floods

* Flooding causes damage to agriculture, property

By Rebekah Kebede

PERTH, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Thousands of Australians were forced from their homes on Monday because of floods that have risen to record levels in some areas and killed one person, and authorities issued warnings for more than a dozen rivers in Queensland and New South Wales states.

Australia's coal industry, which is concentrated in Queensland and New South Wales, was largely unaffected, easing concern about a repeat of last year's disastrous floods that sent global coal prices soaring.

But heavy rain is expected to take a toll on the region's agriculture, particularly on cotton, sugarcane, soybean and corn.

About 2,500 people were evacuated from the Queensland town of St. George, where flooding is expected to reach a record level of 14 metres (45 feet) or higher, state police said.

"We're hearing from people whose families have lived on the property for 100 or more years who've never seen water in their homes who have now got water up to the roof," Queensland Premier Anna Bligh told Sky news.

"So we know that something that's never been seen before is on its way."

St. George was also hit in 2011, when flash floods across Queensland and New South Wales killed about 35 people, swamped 30,000 houses, and wiped out roads, bridges and rail lines.

The flooding across the two states this year has resulted in tens of thousands of people being cut off in the last few days, with some having to battle with deadly snakes as they scrambled for dry ground.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has forecast that flooding will continue for weeks in some areas.

The town of Moree, the centre of the New South Wales' cotton industry was cut in half by record floodwaters, and some estimated that each farm in the area could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of crops.

Australia is the world's largest coal exporter and accounts for roughly two-thirds of global trade of coking coal, used for steel production. The 2011 floods pushed up global coal prices as production was brought to a near standstill.

"The coal mines themselves are not experiencing any difficulties," Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said.

"So far, the Queensland coal industry, as far as we are aware, has missed the flooding."

On Friday, Whitehaven Coal said it had shut four mines because of heavy rain, but the mines were not flooded and no equipment had been damaged.

Global miner Xstrata said there was no impact on its operations.

"It's business as usual," spokeswoman Kathryn Lamond said.

But the industry was still concerned about disruption if there was no let-up in the rain and more flooding, Roche said.

Many mines are still carrying significant volumes of water from last year's floods, so more heavy rain is a danger.

Storm damage was estimated to have cut Australia's commodity-weighted economy's gross domestic product growth (GDP) by A$20 billion, or 1.5 percent, in the 2010-2011 financial year.

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