Australians Battle Fires, Floods After Intense Summer Heat and Storms

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Australians battled both fires and some of the worst flooding in decades Monday that stranded residents in several communities after days of intense summer heat and storms.

Bureau of Meteorology hydrologist Gordon McKay said some parts of New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, had experienced their worst floods in more than 50 years after a week of rain.

Those trapped included 1,000 music fans attending a four-day music festival in the state, officials said.

Flood waters also isolated several communities in Queensland and the tropical Northern Territory, which was lashed by a cyclone over the weekend, emergency services reported.

The major highway from the east to the west coast city of Perth remained closed Monday because of a blaze that remained out of control, eight days after three truck drivers died in an attempt to drive through a wall of fire.

Federal lawmaker Barry Haase, whose 890,000-square mile Outback electorate is described as the largest in the world, called for the Great Eastern Highway to be reopened despite the danger.

The closure of the highway, which runs through Haase's electorate, was proving costly for interstate trade, he said.

But state official Peter Keppel said the fire, which has burned 101,300 acres of scrubland since it started Dec. 28, remained dangerous.

With temperatures expected to reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit Monday and northerly winds forecast, the fire could again cross the highway, which is closed between Southern Cross, 230 miles east of Perth, and Coolgardie, 350 miles east of Perth, Keppel said.

In southeast Australia, water-dropping aircraft were used Monday to attack a 25-acre fire in steep terrain in a national park in Victoria state.

North of Victoria in New South Wales state, thousands of people remained cut off by floods, State Emergency Service spokesman Phil Campbell said.

"The threat in terms of rising floodwaters has eased," Campbell said. "The greater concern for us is the ongoing isolation of those several thousand people who will remain isolated in some instances for up to week."

About 1,000 music fans attending the music festival near Tenterfield would remain trapped by a washed-away bridge until Tuesday, Campbell said.

Further north in Queensland state, flood waters were receding from weekend peaks.

Emergency volunteers were being airlifted to Queensland farms isolated by floods to deliver supplies to stranded residents, the State Emergency Service reported.