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Page last updated at 11:18 GMT, Saturday, 23 May 2009 12:18 UK

Thousands flee Australia floods

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Forecasters said the storm would begin to lessen on Saturday

Torrential rains and strong winds have left at least two people dead and forced thousands from their homes on Australia's east coast, officials say.

Large areas of New South Wales and Queensland have been declared disaster zones. As many as 20,000 people have been cut off by the floodwaters.

The flooding is the most extensive in the two states for 30 years.

Earlier, evacuation orders were issued for five more communities, including 2,000 people in the town of Kempsey.

The Queensland authorities have also closed all beaches along the state's northern coast as 80km/h (55mph) winds caused swells of up to 6m (20ft).

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said the storm would begin to lessen later on Saturday, but warned that there continued to be a risk of flash-floods.

Map

On Friday, the body of a 70-year-old man was found at Raleigh, south of Coffs Harbour in New South Wales, near where floodwaters had submerged his car.

Another man died in Queensland on Wednesday, when a sheet of metal blew off a building and crashed through his office window.

Severe weather has affected many parts of Australia in recent months.

There have already been floods in the east and north, while in the south conditions have been extremely dry, contributing to the severity of bushfires in Victoria which claimed more than 170 lives.



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