x

Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Thousands flee bushfires in Australia's Queensland state

As more than 100 fires raged in Queensland, heavy rains lashed Sydney in New South Wales

Fires burn north of Bundaberg in Australia's Queensland state. Queensland Fire and Emergency via AP
Fires burn north of Bundaberg in Australia's Queensland state. Queensland Fire and Emergency via AP

Thousands of people were being evacuated from their homes in north-east Australia on Wednesday as bushfires raged across Queensland state amid a scorching heatwave.

About 8,000 people were told to leave the town of Gracemere, south of the central coast area of Rockhampton, as a fast-moving blaze threatened homes.

The Bureau of Meteorology declared a "catastrophic" fire danger - the highest possible risk rating - in some central areas, while firefighters battled to contain more than 130 blazes across the state.

"This is a very stressful situation for families. I need you to all be strong. I need you to all listen. Your family and the protection of our community is vital," state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk warned those told to leave.

"So we need to reach out to community members who are frail, who are elderly, who have a disability. Please listen to authorities, it is going to get a lot worse," she said.

Firefighters refill their tender from a water tanker in the Deepwater National Park area of Queensland on November 28, 2018. AFP
Firefighters refill their tender from a water tanker in the Deepwater National Park area of Queensland on November 28, 2018. AFP

The Bureau of Meteorology said scorching temperatures had broken records across Queensland, with the state capital Brisbane reaching 37.9°C.

At least 34 schools were closed, and authorities earlier in the day said the number of homes destroyed was likely in "single digits" but it was too early to confirm.

Other states were sending backup firefighters to Queensland.

"We will see more fires flare up very very quickly, so this is the start of it," Queensland fire and emergency services commissioner Katarina Carroll said.

"It is very difficult to get a sense of how long people have in the area because the winds are picking up faster than what was expected - so evolving, but very, very quickly," she said.

Resident Luana Royle from the central Queensland town of Finch Hatton told national broadcaster ABC that the area had been hard-hit by the blaze.

"Our fires around here, you couldn't even see 500 metres in front of you this morning," she said.

"Everyone is OK, but two houses have went, which is pretty sad."

South of Queensland, in the neighbouring state of New South Wales, Sydney was hit by severe thunderstorms and heavy rainfall that disrupted normal life.

Flights were cancelled, railway lines closed and motorists stranded on flooded roads as a month's worth of rain fell on the city on Wednesday morning.

Some places received more than 106 millimetres of rain within a few hours, the local weather office said.

The heavy rains came just a week after New South Wales experienced strong winds that fanned fires north of Sydney and blanketed the city in a dust storm.

Rain droplets are seen on the window of the Circular Quay train station as clouds cover the Sydney Harbour on November 28, 2018. AFP
Rain droplets are seen on the window of the Circular Quay train station as clouds cover the Sydney Harbour on November 28, 2018. AFP