SYDNEY • Three people are dead and at least three more are missing after a severe storm swept down Australia's east coast over the weekend.
The storm that hit Queensland last Saturday has moved as far south as Tasmania and coincided with high tides to damage buildings, flood rivers and force evacuations in the island state.
Two elderly people were missing in northern Tasmania yesterday. One is a man in his 80s believed to have been swept away by fast-moving waters, police said. The wife of another elderly man - he was rescued by helicopter through the roof of his inundated home - was also missing.
The mayor of the Tasmanian town of Latrobe, Mr Peter Freshney, told ABC News that he knew of 25 rescues by helicopter and army heavy vehicles.
Hundreds of Tasmanians spent last night in emergency accommodation after abandoning their homes to rising flood waters and warnings that seven major rivers are likely to burst their banks.
The state's farmers were also hard hit by livestock losses, after battling drought only a few months ago.
The cost of the deadly storm's damage is still being tallied. Up until yesterday, insurance companies have received at least 11,000 claims, with estimated losses of A$38 million (S$38 million).
The figure will no doubt rise as there could be further flooding and erosion in New South Wales after another abnormally high tide hit the south-eastern state last night.
The state's police assistant commissioner Kyle Stewart said yesterday it was a tragedy that three men died when their vehicles were swept away on Sunday, despite constant warnings about the dangers of entering flood waters.
"What do we have to say to get the message across? Flood waters are deadly - we can't put it any other way."
One of the dead was a 37-year-old man in the federal capital of Canberra - well inland from the coast but still deluged by the storm. He was found trapped in his car in a swollen river by a state emergency service crew called to rescue another car that had failed to make it across a river crossing.
At Sydney's Bondi Beach, a man who apparently decided to take a swim in 8m waves disappeared yesterday after being swept off the rocks.
Nearby Coogee Beach's iconic surf club suffered extensive damage after being pounded by waves, while in the beachside suburb of Collaroy further north, seven multimillion-dollar houses lost their yards to the surf and risked being undermined.
"One of the properties along that strip actually lost an entire in-ground pool that had moved above 5m out to sea," police inspector Jason Reimer told ABC News.