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Australian floods force more evacuations

  |   Jan. 22, 2011 at 1:06 PM
MELBOURNE, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Australian authorities Saturday called for the evacuation of more towns in northwest Victoria before a "vast mass" of water floods them.

An emergency alert was issued for Milnes Bridge, Meade, Benjaroop and Red Hill, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. Pental Island in the Murray River was expected to be cut off for weeks, and all residents were urged to leave.

State Premier Ted Baillieu said, "This vast mass of water is making its way down the rivers … and preparations continue in all these downstream towns."

The water is estimated to extend over an area 25 by 50 miles.

The record flooding has affected 75 towns, more than 1,770 properties and 4,400 people in Victoria, the Melbourne Herald Sun reported.

In Brisbane, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh joined a cleanup crew at an apartment complex. The Queensland floods have claimed more than 30 lives since late November, a figure that may rise if remains found in the Lockyer Valley west of Brisbane Saturday night prove to be human.

Rockhampton's airport is scheduled to reopen Monday after being closed for three weeks.

Federal Human Services Minister Tanya Plibersek announced an investigation of the "small number" of relief claims that may be fraudulent.

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