Australia devastated by floods

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Large parts of Australia's coastal northeast have been flooded in a spreading environmental disaster as thousands of residents flee their homes to avoid the rising waters.

Thousands have been forced from their homes by the disaster, which in the last week has left an area larger than France and Germany under water and disrupted the lives of more than 200,000 people.

The town of Rockhampton, 600 km north of the state capital, Brisbane, and with a population of 77,000, has been cut off, with 40 per cent of its houses expected to be flooded in the coming days by waters more than nine metres deep.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology has said flood waters in the town could peak at 30.83 feet on Wednesday, a level similar to floods that hit in 1991 and 1954.

The rain has eased, but the waters are gradually working their way down the state's river systems to the coast. Rockhampton, at the mouth of the Fitzroy River, was slowly being inundated. Flood waters have already reached 8.8 metres in parts.

State Emergency Services and police are patrolling the area in boats to make sure people were safe and some residents decided to move to higher ground.

But one person has been confirmed dead. A 41-year-old woman disappeared trying to cross the flooded inland Leichhardt River in her car. Police said her body was found about two km away.

A 38-year-old man is still missing after he was last seen swimming in a river. The search for him has been suspended because of concerns for the safety of emergency service workers.

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