Australian flood crisis could continue for 10 days

Australian PM is mulling introducing a flood tax to pay for reconstruction.

Melbourne: An expansive inland sea will surge across southeast Australia and threaten rural towns in its path for up to 10 more days, an official said on Saturday as the nation`s flood crisis continued to create havoc and destruction.

The flooding began more than a month ago in Australia`s northeast Queensland state, where 30 people died, more than 30,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and at least AUD 3 billion in crops and coal exports have been lost.

Record rains have shifted the emergency focus to southeast Victoria state, which is usually parched during the southern summer.

State Emergency Service spokesman Lachlan Quick said that a vast expanse of floodwater about 55 miles (90 kilometres) long by 25 miles (40 kilometres) wide and northwest of the Victorian capital Melbourne would continue coursing inland for the next 7 to 10 days until it spills into the Murray River.

Quick said 75 towns in the state had so far been affected by flooding and another five to 10 towns remained in the flood waters` northern path across flat wheat-growing country.

"It`s not moving as one big, swamping wall, it`s not a wave as such," Quick said. "It`s just a big, wide, long swathe of water."

"I`m from up that way and it`s totally unprecedented to have a flood in January," he added.

At the time of year, Victoria is usually tinder dry and at the peak of its wildfire season. The state was the scene of Australia`s worst wildfire disaster on February 07, 2009, when firestorms killed 173 people, scorched some 1,300 square miles (3,300 square kilometres) of land and razed 2,000 homes — including entire towns.

The government has yet to estimate the cost of the damage, but says it could be the nation`s most expensive natural disaster ever.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said she is considering introducing a flood tax to pay for reconstruction, an option rejected by some business groups.

Business groups have also called on the government to abandon its economic plan to return the national budget to surplus by the fiscal year ending June 2013 because of the scale of the flood disaster.

Gillard hopes that Australia will become one of the first developed countries to balance its books following the global financial crisis, but business groups argue that spending on flood reconstruction is more important.

The government has paid AUD 225 million in emergence grants to 184,000 flood-affected people in less than two weeks, The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported on Saturday.

In the country`s third-largest city of Brisbane, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, leader of the state government, joined thousands of volunteers on Saturday to continue cleanup work following last week`s inundation of several suburbs.

Donning rubber boots and with mud smeared on her cheek, Bligh shovelled muck and muddy rocks from a yard of an inner suburban apartment block.

Bureau Report