22 May 2009

Wild weather moves to New South Wales

5:18 am on 22 May 2009

New South Wales was battered by storms on Thursday, with properties isolated, widespread blackouts and emergency services forced to conduct flood rescues.

Heavy rain closed 200 schools and left thousands of houses without power in northern NSW, as the wild weather drifted south of the Queensland border.

The Bureau of Meteorology issued a severe weather warning for the NSW northern rivers, northern tablelands and mid-north coast. There are flood warnings in place for the Tweed, Wilsons, Bellinger, Hastings, Orara and Brunswick rivers.

Winds of 130km/h were recorded at Byron Bay on Thursday morning, with gusts of 125km/h possible in the next 24 to 48 hours, the bureau said.

The NSW State Emergency Service said it had received more than 700 calls for assistance across the region. Emergency services made two rescues in northern NSW after motorists had driven into floodwater.

The NSW government has set up two evacuation centres in preparation for the severe weather - at Southern Cross University in Lismore and Ocean Shores Golf Club in Ocean Shores.

Big clean-up bill for Queensland

Days of wild weather that caused chaos across southeast Queensland will burden the state with one of its biggest ever damage bills.

The Queensland government has declared a natural disaster zone in the southeast, saying the rain has caused the worst flooding since 1974, when the Brisbane River broke its banks and inundated surrounding areas.

Flash flooding has affected many homes and businesses, swept away cars, caused landslides and brought powerlines down.

On the Gold Coast, winds of up to 120km/h swept furniture from the tops of high rise buildings, and real estate agent Mark Bayliss, 47, was killed when a metal awning crashed through his office window.

Premier Anna Bligh warned the damage bill would be one of the highest the state's ever seen. The federal government announced grants of up to $A13,000 for affected households after an appeal from Ms Bligh.

Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland said emergency assistance payments of up to $A165 per person would also be made available immediately and there would be funds to help repair public infrastructure.