Thunderstorms lashed parts of Australia’s east coast early on Saturday, causing road closures and flash flooding, but the country was still battling nearly 100 bushfires and some of the affected areas remained dry.
Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, states hit badly by the bushfires that have so far killed 29 people, destroyed more than 2,500 homes and scorched millions of acres of land, are now dealing with rain bucketing down.
Major highways were closed in Queensland early 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, which has been hit this week already by severe storms and unhealthy smoke from the bushfires.
Fears the smoke would return on Saturday for the final round of the Australian Open qualifying matches eased after environmental officials said air quality forecast in the Melbourne area would be “moderate” rather than “very poor”.
There were more than a dozen of fires burning in Victoria on Saturday, but an evacuation order for a fire in the mountain region was lifted.
New Zealand Defence Force said on Friday it was sending more reinforcements to Australia, including from Fiji, to join contingents and specialists sent also by other countries, such as Japan and the United States.
Here are key events in the bushfire crisis:
- Early on Friday, 82 fires were burning across New South Wales, 30 uncontained, and several in Victoria, fire authorities said.
- An emergency evacuation order was issued for parts of Victoria’s northeast, with an out-of-control bushfire threatening the Buffalo River Valley.
- Firefighters, family and the community of Holbrook in New South Wales bade farewell to Samuel McPaul, a 28-year-old volunteer who died in December while fighting a massive and fast-moving blaze.
- Australia will have to wait until March for rains heavy enough to bring sustained relief from dry weather that has fuelled the bushfires, the weather bureau said.
- Top tourism body estimates the bushfire crisis has cost the Australian industry almost A$1-billion ($690-million).
- Players’ complaints about pollution blighted qualifying rounds of the Australian Open in Melbourne, the year’s first tennis Grand Slam.