MELBOURNE • Unusual torrential rain in Australia's outback has turned the Uluru monolith into a series of cascading waterfalls and triggered flash floods.
Police were using helicopters yesterday to search for a family of six, missing since the Christmas Day downpour which drenched the desert that is usually sweltering in the midst of the southern summer at this time of year.
A car thought to be carrying three people, believed to be Japanese tourists, was washed off a road into a flooded creek near the town of Alice Springs, police said. Two people managed to get out but police had "grave concerns" for the third person who was trapped as the vehicle was washed away, said Acting Superintendent Brendan Muldoon.
"We're told by witnesses it rolled over a couple of times and was wedged up against a tree," he said.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation later reported there were only two passengers and both were safe.
The Northern Territory authorities closed the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which surrounds the landmark also known as Ayers Rock, as record-breaking summer rain fell on Sunday and Monday. The rock, a sacred aboriginal site, was shrouded in cloud as water cascaded off it.
Northern Territory Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Sally Cutter said more than 232mm of rain fell on the town of Kintore on Monday, more than double the record December rainfall of 110mm in 2003.
Uluru is one of Australia's major tourist destinations, attracting about 300,000 visitors a year. The park reopened yesterday.
About 80 people remained in evacuation centres in Kintore and roads in the area were inaccessible, a spokesman for the state's Police and Emergency Service said yesterday.