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3 dead, dramatic rescues in Australia

- January 28, 2013 - Updated 1028 PKT - From Web Edition

SYDNEY: Three people were dead and dozens plucked from roofs and marooned cars in dramatic air rescues in northeastern Australia Monday as severe floods swept through two states, inundating thousands of homes.


The bodies of two men swept away by floodwaters were found Monday, one in the Queensland state capital Brisbane and another further north at Gympie, following the earlier discovery of an elderly man's body near the city of Bundaberg.


A pregnant woman and her three-year-old son were rushed to hospital after a large tree fell on them as they were walking Monday morning in Brisbane. They were reported to have head injuries, with the child in a critical condition.


There were dozens of dramatic rescues as rapidly rising waters left people suddenly stranded, including one family who had to zip their infant son into a waterproof bag to be winched to safety by helicopter as floods surrounded their car.


Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said there was an acute emergency unfolding in Bundaberg, home to about 50,000 people 360 kilometres (220 miles) north of Brisbane, with many people scrambling to get out as the river hit a record peak.


Newman said authorities were now in "uncharted territory", with debris-laden floodwaters roaring through the town at such speeds water evacuations were no longer viable and there were fears homes could be ripped from their foundations.


More than 2,000 homes had flooded and "many thousands" of people were affected, he said, with a "significant number" of people expected to be trapped in their homes.


Some 60 patients at the local hospital were being shifted to its upper floors.


Fourteen helicopters including two army Black Hawks would fly rescue missions until nightfall and Newman said the government was scrambling to find extra aircraft to boost efforts.


"We've got to pull all stops out to do this before it gets dark," he said.


Thousands of people have evacuated their homes across Queensland with flood warnings for the majority of the state's rivers as ex-tropical cyclone Oswald sweeps into neighbouring New South Wales bringing high winds and heavy rains.


Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the "wild weather had broken a lot of hearts", with some Queensland residents experiencing their third flood in two years, including the devastating 2011 inundation which killed 35 people.

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