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Australia sees flooding

More than a foot of rain fell in western Australia Monday.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | January 28, 2003

More than a foot of rain fell in western Australia Monday, causing flooding in remote towns and in Queensland.

Meanwhile the wet weather and cooler temperatures helped thousands of firefighters still battling blazes in southeast Australia.

Over the weekend some 20 homes were destroyed in South Wales and Victoria.

"The situation has eased considerably," said fire services spokesperson Lawrence Orel in a prepared statement.

More than 1,000 people evacuated Sunday returned to their homes.

But their stay may be short-lived. Later this week forecasters are once again calling for gusting winds and high temperatures.

"These fires will go on, they cannot be put out quickly. The task is not yet finished," Victorian state Premier Steve Bracks said during a press conference.

Disaster officials were still assessing damages from earlier wildfires that burned more than 500 homes in the Canberra area.

The Salvation Army has been providing meals for evacuees and emergency disaster service personnel.

Salvation Army teams have also provided counseling and blankets to evacuees and are helping government agencies address survivors' immediate and long-term needs.

The St. Vincent De Paul Society was handling donations of clothing and food, and the Red Cross was also responding to people's needs.

Counselors from a group called Lifeline Canberra were available to talk to traumatized residents.

Public anger over what has become one of Australia's worst disasters in history grew as residents accused emergency managers of providing them with inadequate or conflicting information.

"Members of the public calling in to report fires are asked to be sure that they are reporting an actual fire rather than just smoke," said one emergency bulletin.

Australia is in the grip of a yearlong drought. Once fires start, they are fueled by oily eucalyptus leaves and parched underbrush.

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