Death toll in Australian storm rises to six

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The death toll from a violent storm and torrential rain lashing Australia’s east coast rose to six, police said on Saturday, as residents braced for a second turbulent night.

The dead included a mother and her three young children.

The New South Wales state government closed many highways, issued flood warnings and urged residents to stay indoors.

The worst-hit areas included Newcastle, a coal port north of Sydney, and inland to the Hunter Valley wine-growing region.

“The prediction for the weekend is for the current conditions to continue and as such we are providing members of the public with some safety advice,” police commissioner Ken Moroney said.

“I appeal to all members of the community to take extra care, where they are driving or walking around. The strength and size of the storm front cannot be underestimated and there is an enormous response from all agencies being provided,” he added.

“There’s still a danger that tonight, the flood waters are going to come raging back,” state premier Morris Iemma told Australian Associated Press (AAP) during a visit to the flood-ravaged Newcastle suburb of Wallsend where 200 mm of rain fell in just a few hours. Reports said shops in Wallsend’s main street were devastated when a wall of water 1.5 meters high burst through the back of buildings and exploded on to the street, destroying nearly everything in its path.

Across the region, strong winds uprooted many trees and disrupted power supplies. About 132,000 state residents were still without electricity late on Saturday.

Rescuers found the bodies of a mother and her three children missing after part of a road collapsed beneath their car on the state’s central coast near Gosford, AAP reported. A search continued for the children’s father.

The family went missing after a section of highway collapsed under their car on Friday. Emergency crews battled heavy rain, strong winds and floodwaters during the search, with 45 people searching a 4-km stretch of a raging creek, AAP reported.

Earlier the bodies of two people in their 50s were recovered from the wreck of a car swept away by flood waters.

Some flights using Sydney airport were disrupted by the weather.

Meanwhile, a beached cargo ship threatening to break up and cause an environmental disaster off Newcastle was still holding up. A salvage team boarded the “Pasha Bulker”, which had been anchored off the coal port awaiting entry when waves and gales swept it onto a reef and the local Nobbys Beach.

The storm was whipped up by the worst low pressure system off Australia’s east coast in 30 years, weather officials said.