Floods, road closures in Australia as storms lash some bushfire-hit regions

Lidia Kelly, Reuters

Posted at Jan 18 2020 02:28 PM

Staff member carries koalas as they secure the park during flooding caused by heavy rainfall at the Australian Reptile Park in Somersby, New South Wales in this still frame obtained from Jan. 17, 2020 social media video. Australian Reptile Park/Reuters

MELBOURNE—Parts of Australia's east coast were hit by severe storms on Saturday, dousing some of the bushfires that have devastated the region for months but causing road closures and flash flooding.

Fears of smoke from the fires disrupting the Australian Open tennis receded in Melbourne, where the main tournament was due to start on Monday.

Despite the heavy rain, authorities were still battling nearly 100 blazes - part of the bushfires that have killed 29 people since September, destroyed more than 2,500 homes and scorched an area nearly one-third the size of Germany.

Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, 3 of the states most hit by drought and bushfires, are now dealing with rain bucketing down in several areas.

Major highways were closed in Queensland on Saturday, with the state getting some of the heaviest rain Australia has seen for months, while power was cut in parts of New South Wales after a stormy night.

"Heavy, intense rainfall has eased, but showers and thunderstorms still possible through the weekend," the Bureau of Meteorology in Queensland said on Twitter on Saturday.

"Take care on the roads - if it's flooded, forget it."

Parts of Queensland's south saw triple the monthly rainfall overnight. No major damage has been reported, although some residential areas were flooded and many of the state's parks and tourist attractions were closed.

New South Wales fire services welcomed the rain, which they said on Twitter would help to control the 75 fires burning in the state, of which 25 are yet to be contained. But, they also said that some firegrounds have not seen any rain yet.

More benign storms were forecast for Victoria over the weekend, which has been hit this week already by severe storms and unhealthy smoke from the bushfires.

Skies were clear in Melbourne, however, for the final round of qualifying for the Australian Open, the year's first Grand Slam, and Victoria's Environmental Protection rated the air quality as "good," after an earlier forecast of unhealthy air for the weekend.

There were still more than a dozen fires burning in Victoria on Saturday, with firefighters battling to contain a big blaze in the state's mountain region, 15 times the size of Manhattan.

Victoria's emergency service also issued an evacuation warning due to a bushfire on Saturday for French Island, the state's largest coastal island with a small population of just above 100 people.