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Australia faces weather woes with southern storms

The tail end of one of Australia's largest-ever cyclones triggered wild storms and flash flooding at the other end of the country Saturday, while residents in the cyclone zone picked through what was left of their homes.

The tropical low that was Cyclone Yasi, which tore through the northeast earlier this week, was active over central Australia and making a series of thunderstorms over the southern city of Melbourne and other large towns in Victoria state much worse, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

More than 7 inches (175 millimeters) of rain fell in just a few hours overnight Friday in some Melbourne neighborhoods and winds gusting to 80 mph (130 kph) knocked down trees, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Drains were overwhelmed, causing flash flooding that covered streets and swamped some homes. The State Emergency Service said 84 people were rescued from cars that stalled in flooded streets, or from inundated properties.

A 26-year-old English tourist was taken to a hospital after part of a tree fell on the tent she was camping in, SES spokesman David Tucek said.

Many parts of Australia have suffered a summer of awful weather, including pounding rains across northeastern Queensland state that caused the nation's worst flooding in decades, killing 35 people and causing an estimated $5.6 billion damage.

Yasi ripped across the coast near Cairns on Wednesday night, tearing apart dozens of homes and damaging hundreds more, cutting power to tens of thousands of people and flattening millions of dollars worth of crops. Just one death was reported.

Police and army personnel moved through the storm-savaged coastal town of Tully Heads on Saturday, going door-to-door accounting for residents.

Officials spray painted "No Go" as a warning on the worst-hit homes. A few houses were reduced to rubble. A layer of brown sludge covered the ground, leaving a sickening smell wafting throughout the community.

The massive surge of water ripped through homes, taking out walls and pushing resident's belongings into other people's houses and yards.

Residents spent Saturday sifting through the wreckage and dragging people's possessions back to their owners.

"I'll take my container back when you're done with it!" Ian Barrett, 55, joked to his neighbor. Barrett's huge blue shipping container lay in the man's yard — about 300 feet (90 meters) from where it once stood.

Barrett's beachfront house was still standing, but was nearly empty inside. The waves ripped everything from the home: furniture, toys, appliances.

His 11-year-old daughter Natalie's bed lay a third of a mile (half a kilometer) down the road. The only thing left on the walls was the family's flat-screen TV, a recent purchase.

The family fled along with most of the community the day before the storm hit, and were now staying with friends.

"We're not gonna rebuild here," Barrett said. "We'd never be able to go to sleep again at night."

Residents and officials were amazed the death toll was not higher. The storm thrashed the coast with up to 170 mph (280 kph) winds and sent waves crashing ashore two blocks into seaside communities, as tens of thousands of people huddled in evacuation centers.

Electricity and phone service were gradually being restored, and some 4,000 troops were marshaled to help clear roads of downed trees, power lines and twisted metal roofs torn from homes. Efforts were hampered by drenching rain in many parts of the disaster zone.

Because Australia's far northeast is sparsely populated, Yasi, despite its size, didn't hit any major cities as it charged across the continent. But the isolation was making cleanup more difficult, as authorities struggled to reach out-of-the-way towns.

The government has warned that the damage from Yasi will significantly add to the damage bill the country is facing because of the floods, but that it is too early to put a figure on the amount.

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Online:

Bureau of Meteorology: http://www.bom.gov.au/cyclone/index.shtml