Five swept away in Australian floods

SYDNEY: Five people have been swept to their deaths by flash flooding in northeastern Australia, officials said Saturday, after what the Queensland state premier described as an “off-the-scale” deluge.

State Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had warned that the weather bureau had forecast extremely heavy weather for southeast Queensland on Friday afternoon.

But in announcing the first three deaths late Friday, Palaszczuk said that a deluge of 277 millimeters (almost 11 inches) of rain fell in the area where the deaths occurred in just three hours.

“This is off the scale,” she said. Police said four of the deaths occurred when two 4-wheel drive vehicles were swept away from the same bridge in Caboolture, some 44 kilometers (27 miles) north of Brisbane on Friday afternoon.

In the first accident, a 74-year-old man, a 39-year-old woman and a five-year-old boy all died.

In the second, two passengers — a 21-year-old woman and a boy aged 16 — managed to escape. The body of the driver, a 49-year-old man, was found early on Saturday.

In a third fatal incident involving vehicles being swept away, a 75-year-old man died in nearby Burpengary but police were able to rescue a 68-year-old woman found clinging to a tree.

“We are devastated,” said Queensland’s Police, Fire and Emergency Minister Jo-Ann Miller as she revealed that authorities had received some 4,000 calls for assistance over a five-hour period on Friday afternoon.

Almost 60 swift water rescues were conducted as the storm hit, she said.