Southeast Australia set for another week of floods

Rural Australian towns braced for another week of flooding Sunday as a vast lake continued to spread across the country's southeast and a potential tropical storm threatened the northeast.

The flooding began more than a month ago in Australia's northeast Queensland state, where 30 people have died, more than 30,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed and at least 3 billion Australian dollars ($3 billion) in crops and coal exports have been lost.

Record rains have shifted the flood emergency focus to southeast Victoria state, which is usually parched during the southern summer.

Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan said in a statement Sunday that the floods will rank as one of the most costly natural disasters in Australian history and its impact on the economy will be felt for years.

The government will announce its first cost estimates on Friday, he said.

The State Emergency Service has warned that a lake about 55 miles (90 kilometers) long northwest of the Victorian capital of Melbourne will continue coursing inland for the next week until it spills into the Murray River.

Emergency services were focusing their efforts 210 miles (340 kilometers) northwest of Melbourne at Swan Hill, a town of 10,000 where the Murray meets the swollen Lodden River and flood waters are expected to peak mid week, SES spokesman Sam Bishop said Sunday.

SES said 75 towns in the state have been affected by flooding and another five to 10 towns are still in the floodwaters' northern path across flat wheat-growing country.

Almost 2,000 homes and businesses were flooded or isolated and close to 5,000 people have been evacuated, SES said.

Meanwhile, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology warned Sunday that a low pressure system off the north Queensland coast could develop into a cyclone over the next few days.

The bureau rated the chances of a cyclone — which could lash the coast with gale-force winds and torrential rains — at between 20 percent and 50 percent.