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Australian authorities urge residents of Queensland town to flee floods

From Karen Smith, CNN
updated 11:08 AM EST, Mon February 6, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Balonne River in the town of St. George reaches record level and is expected to rise further
  • The authorities urge hundreds of residents still in the town to leave their homes
  • Thirty houses have already been submerged in St. George
  • The authorities have been airlifting thousands of residents to safety across Queensland

(CNN) -- Australian authorities on Monday pleaded with hundreds of people who had chosen to remain in a town in the path of rising flood waters to vacate their homes.

The level of the Balonne River in the town of St. George, in the eastern state of Queensland, swelled to 13.63 meters at lunchtime on Monday, breaking its previous record, and was expected to crest overnight above 14 meters.

"We can't and won't physically drag people out of their homes," Bob Atkinson, the Queensland police commissioner, said. "But we repeat the request for people to leave their homes."

Queensland has been deluged with heavy rains over the past week even as some parts of the region are still struggling to recover from devastating floods that took place about a year ago.

Thirty houses in St. George have already been inundated, according to Neil Roberts, the Queensland police and emergency services minister. "We do expect this to rise as the waters head towards their peak," he said.

The majority of St. George's roughly 3,000 residents have left the danger area, by both bus and aircraft, Roberts said.

Fleeing the flooding in Australia
Record floods in Queensland, Australia

The authorities had already been using military helicopters and a C-130 cargo plane to airlift thousands of stranded Queensland residents to safety. Hundreds of people were taking shelter in evacuation centers Monday.

Rescue workers on Sunday recovered the body of a woman who died trying to drive her pickup through flood waters, the authorities said. Jane Sheahan was swept away Friday in the town of Roma.

Witnesses told CNN affiliate Nine Network that Sheahan managed to hand off her 7-year-old son, Darcy, to a would-be rescuer before she was swept away.

The floods have already damaged hundreds of homes in Roma and another town, Mitchell, according to Roberts.

In the neighboring state of New South Wales, thousands of people remained isolated Sunday despite reports of receding floodwaters in some areas.

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