Flooding prompts evacuations in Australian towns

Drenching rains pounded communities across northeastern Australia on Tuesday, flooding major highways and prompting hundreds of evacuations.

Days of torrential downpours have left many communities inundated, with up to 11 inches (27 centimeters) falling in a 24-hour period in some areas.

Flooding has shut down about 300 roads across Queensland, including two major highways to the state capital Brisbane.

The Queensland state town of Theodore was under water, and officials were preparing to evacuate all 350 residents by helicopter later Tuesday, the Department of Community Safety said.

"It's a pretty drastic situation," Banana Shire Councilor Vaughn Becker told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The rain has also caused at least 400 million Australian dollars ($403 million) worth of damage to crops across the state, including sunflower and cotton, that were just recovering from months of drought, said Brent Finlay, president of farmers' lobby group AgForce.

"These crops were looking fantastic two months ago, and all that's been taken away from them," Finlay said. "It's just devastating. This was going to be the crop that got a lot of farmers back on their feet after the drought."