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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 June 2007, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Australia storm death toll rises
Flooded streets of Newcastle. Photo: Paul Everett
Newcastle is one of the worst-hit areas

At least nine people have been killed by heavy storms that are continuing to lash eastern Australia, officials say.

Gale-force winds and rising flood waters have forced the evacuation of thousands of people in New South Wales.

More than 130,000 homes remain without electricity around Newcastle and in Sydney.

A severe weather warning remains in place, with winds gusting up to 90km/h (60mph), Australian weather officials said.

The death toll rose to nine on Sunday after police found the body of a man who had been swept into a storm water drain near Newcastle.

I went to the main street... and it was like a screen from a zombie movie: cars were in the middle of the street, buildings had caved in and there was no light and no-one else around
Nick, Newcastle, NSW

Among the dead were five members from the same family, including three children.

The family's car was swept away after part of the Old Pacific Highway collapsed on Friday - when the storms began.

Police said earlier they had found the bodies of a couple in their 50s whose car was washed off a bridge in the Hunter Valley.

A 29-year-old man was killed when a tree fell on to his vehicle near Newcastle.

Newcastle, Australia

Local residents said that the storms continued to wreak havoc.

"Things were literally flying past the house," Nick from Newcastle told the BBC News website.

"I went to the main street at about 0400am and it was like a screen from a zombie movie: cars were in the middle of the street, buildings had caved in and there was no light and no-one else around," he said.

On Sunday, some 5,000 residents in the Hunter Valley were ordered to leave their homes amid fears that the Hunter River would breach its levee within hours.

In the Newcastle suburb of Wallsend, where 200mm of rain fell in a few hours, state premier Morris Iemma warned that the risk was not yet over.

The Pasha Bulker sits aground on Nobby's Beach in Newcastle

On Friday, massive seas pushed the Pasha Bulker coal freighter onto a sand bank off Newcastle.

Salvage crews hope to refloat the ship once conditions ease.

The tanker's 21 crewmen, all thought to be from the Philippines, were winched to safety and were reported to be in good health.

Australian storms beach freighter
08 Jun 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Cyclone batters western Australia
09 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Australia
09 May 07 |  Country profiles

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