December 30, 2010 / 5:34 AM / 9 years ago

Australian downpour spreads south, cuts off towns

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Heavy rain across much of eastern Australia left towns cut off by floods on Monday as the storms spread southwards and threatened agriculture and mining, forecasters said.

Two men boat along a flooded street in Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia December 29, 2010. REUTERS/Jono Searle/Pool

The deluge over the Christmas weekend has gradually moved south from northeastern Queensland to hit agricultural areas of New South Wales, with further rainfall forecast for coming days.

Up to 250 mm of rain was recorded in the 24 hours to 6 p.m. EST Sunday in parts of Queensland, as the remains of a tropical cyclone that hit the coast on Saturday moved across inland areas, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said.

Sugar planters, wheat growers and coal miners in the affected states are among those likely to be hardest hit.

Several towns had been cut off in both states by rising floodwaters, while emergency services have evacuated families in the worst-hit areas. Gale warnings were issued for some coastal areas.

Flood warnings were in place on Monday for more than a dozen rivers in each state, while forecasters warned of the potential for flash flooding.

Much of the rain has fallen on key sugar growing areas of Queensland. Australia, a top sugar exporter along with Brazil and Thailand, this month slashed its current year sugar export forecast by 25 percent as flooding reduced sugar content of cane.

The crop damage over recent weeks has helped propel sugar prices to 30-year highs and forced the nation’s biggest sugar exporter, Queensland Sugar Ltd (QSL), to buy more raw sugar from Brazil and Thailand to meet its export commitments following the wettest spring on record.

Industry body Canegrowers has said this year’s crop had largely been harvested, so the rain would have less impact, but there were still concerns about sugar cane planted in the last six months and due for harvest around May.

The wheat harvest has also largely ground to a halt in affected areas.

Australia is also a leading coal exporter, much of it mined in the eastern states. Coal mines have been flooded and some producers have declared “force majeure” - indicating to their buyers that they may not be able to meet targets as originally agreed for reasons beyond their control.

Editing by Nick Macfie

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