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Australia flooding racks up a hefty bill

Economists have estimated the bill from the prolonged floods – the worst to hit Queensland for half a century – at $5.94 billion. But they say the real cost will be known only when the waters recede.

People cling to railings and metal fences on a flooded street in Toowoomba, Australia, during a flash flood Monday, Jan. 10. Flash floods swept through the northeastern Australian community killing one woman, trapping others in cars and leaving some clinging to trees as relentless rains brought more misery to a region battling its worst flooding in decades.

ABC/AP Photo

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More Queensland towns – including popular seaside resorts on the state's Gold Coast – faced flooding Monday, threatening Australia's tourism industry and dealing a fresh blow to the Australian economy.

Economists have estimated the bill from the prolonged floods – the worst to hit Queensland for half a century – at $5.94 billion. But they say the real cost will be known only when the waters recede and the full extent of the damage to roads, railway lines, bridges, and homes. [Editors note: the original version of this article misstated the estimated cost of flooding.]

As well as destroying infrastructure and drenching more than 40 towns, the floods have paralyzed Australia’s biggest coal-mining region, which produces more than one-third of its coal exports. Vast quantities of crops have also been wiped out, to the frustration of farmers hoping for a bumper harvest after years of drought.

Now Queensland’s tourism industry – already under pressure because a strong Australian dollar has made the country more expensive – is at risk too. After 13 inches of rain fell in 24 hours on parts of the state, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) warned Monday that the Gold Coast – a magnet for international visitors – was in danger of receiving similarly torrential downpours.

Toowoomba, west of the state capital Brisbane, was the latest city to be hit, as flash floods raced through, killing at least seven people and sweeping cars off the roads. The city of Gympie, just inland from the Sunshine Coast, was also inundated, after the Mary River burst its banks.

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