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Australians Flee Flood of "Biblical Proportions"

This aerial photo taken on December 31, 2010 shows the Fairbairn Dam spilling into the Queensland town of Emerald, illustrating the extent of flooding across the area.
Jono Searle/AFP/Getty Images
BRISBANE, Australia - Residents of an Australian coastal city were evacuated Saturday as surging floodwaters edged closer to their community, with one official describing the devastation as reaching "biblical proportions."

Days of driving rain last week swamped northeastern Australia, with around 200,000 people affected by floodwaters in an area larger than France and Germany combined. While the rain has stopped, rivers are still surging to new heights and overflowing into low-lying towns as the water makes its way toward the ocean.

"In many ways, it is a disaster of biblical proportions," Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser told reporters in the flooded city of Bundaberg on Saturday.

The city of Rockhampton, near the coast, is the next community in the water's path, and is bracing for flood levels to peak Tuesday or Wednesday.

Rockhampton residents stocked up on food and supplies Saturday, with officials moving those living in low-lying areas into an evacuation center. Mayor Brad Carter warned about 40 percent of the city could be affected by the surging waters, and residents could be forced to wait at least two weeks before returning home.

"Some of them will not know whether their floorboards have been covered and their personal property destroyed, or whether they've been saved and the water has only come up and spared their property," he said. "That's going to be a difficult waiting period for many members of our community."

Officials say half of Queensland's 715,305 square miles has been affected by the flooding. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh warned that drenched communities could be underwater for more than a week, and cleanup efforts were expected to cost billions of dollars.