Heavy rains flood towns in eastern Australia

Australia's attorney general declared 45 communities along the country's east coast disaster areas Friday, following weeks of drenching rains that have submerged homes, destroyed crops and killed four people.

Despite years of drought, December's heavy rains have brought misery to the region. Thousands of people have been forced to evacuate their homes, and officials have been scrambling to pluck stranded motorists from cars and surround vulnerable homes and businesses with sandbags.

"This was one of the most significant weather events in this state for a lot of years," said South Australian State Emergency Services Assistant Chief Officer Matthew Maywald.

The relentless weather claimed its fourth victim Thursday. A man in his 50s was found in a car that had been swept into a creek in central Queensland state, police said. He was the third motorist in Queensland to die in the recent flooding after rushing water swept their cars away.

The body of a woman in New South Wales was found in water about 1,600 feet (500 meters) from her abandoned car Tuesday, after police said she tried to walk away when the vehicle stalled on a flooded road.

Attorney General Robert McClelland declared 45 communities in Queensland and New South Wales natural disaster zones, allowing them access to federal disaster funds.

Four inches (10 centimeters) of rain fell on the southern New South Wales city of Queanbeyan in one night, causing the community's swollen river to overflow and flood the downtown area.

"This has been the most significant flooding in Queanbeyan in 30 years," Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan said.

Some communities were getting relief in the form of drier weather Friday, but meteorologists were predicting continued heavy rain for other areas that could lead to more flash flooding.

The New South Wales State Emergency Service has received nearly 2,300 calls for help in the past two weeks.