Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 30 March 2020

Flooding dampens joy of heavy rain in Australia

Thunderstorms welcomed in drought and fire-stricken areas, but also bring new challenges

Rain and thunderstorms doused long-burning bushfires across much of eastern Australia Saturday, but they also brought a new threat of flooding in some areas.

Major bushfires continued to rage in regions of the south and southeast of the country that have so far missed out on the rain, including in wildlife-rich forests on Kangaroo Island off the southern coast.

The fire service in New South Wales (NSW) state, the country's most populous and the hardest hit by the crisis, said 75 fires continued to burn Saturday, down from well over 100 a few days earlier.

"Rain continues to fall across a number of fire grounds," the state's rural fire service said, adding that "benign conditions" of rain and cooler temperatures were helping efforts to contain the remaining blazes.

To the north, Queensland state was hit by severe storms overnight, causing some flash flooding and road closures though no deaths or injuries were reported.

Both states have suffered from one of the longest droughts in modern Australian history and some areas saw more rain Friday and Saturday than had fallen in more than a decade.

"The recent rain has just been absolutely fantastic," Sam White, a cattle farmer near the northern town of Guyra in New South Wales, told Reuters.

"It's producing significant amounts of runoff, which is what we need, and it's getting into our dams."

Stephanie Stewart, who lives on a farm in northern New South Wales, said that the farm's dams were dry and they were forced to cart water and feeding stock for months.

"What can I say, we are so lucky," she told AFP. "This has made life a lot easier on the land, that's for sure. Now hoping it spreads and can ease the burden for so many other amazing farmers who have been and still dealing with this dreaded drought."

Fires continued to burn out of control in southern New South Wales and neighbouring Victoria state, but forecasters expected significant rainfall in those areas Sunday and Monday, raising hopes that some of those blazes could be brought under control as well.

The unprecedented fires, fuelled by climate change and a years-long drought, have claimed 28 lives over the past five months.

They have scorched massive tracts of forest and bushland in eastern and southern Australia, decimated livestock on already barren farms and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

Authorities have warned the bushfire crisis could worsen again with Australia only halfway through its summer.

Kangaroo Island misses out on rain

The rains have not hit all fires in New South Wales, nor in the state of Victoria to the south, where many of the worst blazes are raging.

The rain has also completely missed Kangaroo Island, known as Australia's "Galapagos" for the large number of unique animals and other wildlife endemic to the area.

Fires have devastated the national park on the island, wiping out much of its koala population and threatening to completely eradicate bird and other endemic marsupial species.

Bushfire-hit koalas now rescued from flooding

Much attention has focused on Australia's tree-dwelling koalas, with images of the cuddly-looking animals being rescued from wildfires making world headlines.

But on Friday morning, some koalas and other native animals at the Australia Reptile Park on the east coast of New South Wales had to be rescued from floodwaters.

We haven't seen flooding like this at the park for over 15 years

Tim Faulkner

"This is incredible, just last week, we were having daily meetings to discuss the imminent threat of bushfires," park director Tim Faulkner said.

"Today, we've had the whole team out there, drenched, acting fast to secure the safety of our animals and defend the park from the onslaught of water," he told AFP. "We haven't seen flooding like this at the park for over 15 years."

The heavy rain is being seen as a double-edged sword as the water could also make it harder for firefighting trucks to venture deep into forests on muddy tracks, authorities have warned.

Flash floods are another concern, with scorched mountains unable to hold the water and potentially sending torrents of muddy ash into waterways.

Such torrents have already led to huge numbers of fish dying in rivers that were poisoned by the muddy ash, local media have reported.

Updated: January 18, 2020 12:07 PM

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