Mini-tornado hits Oz town

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iol news pic Queensland rain floods REUTERS People look at a boat that has been washed up onto rocks at Airlie Beach located around 120 km (75 miles) south-east of the city of Townsville in Queensland January 25, 2013. Heavy rains - the remnants of Tropical Storm Oswald - caused some major highways and dozens of roads to be cut off, isolating towns and flooding properties, according to local authorities. Picture taken on January 25, 2013. REUTERS/Bon Fenney

Sydney - A “mini-tornado” hit Australia's east coast Saturday, officials said, as they warned parts of Queensland state to prepare for flooding, with torrential rains lashing the state set to intensify.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said the storm had caused much damage near Bundaberg, about 300 kilometres (185 miles) north of Brisbane, and several people were reportedly injured.

“We've had... what appears to be a mini-tornado, there are reports of significant damage,” he told reporters in Brisbane.

“Unroofing of various buildings around that town, power lines down and potentially an incident where a tree has gone down on a motor vehicle with, I believe two occupants. We have declared a disaster in that area.”

Queensland has experienced days of extremely heavy rainfall in the wake of tropical cyclone Oswald, and Newman warned that the government had concerns about potential flooding in Bundaberg and further south in Maryborough.

In Gladstone, north of Bundaberg, there are fears that flood waters could impact hundreds of properties, with evacuations already taking place.

Newman said south east Queensland is expected to receive up to 300 millimetres of rainfall in the coming days as he warned that many beaches were closed due to high winds, high tides and dangerous surf conditions.

“The rain event has only just started, there will be more intense rain over the next two days,” he said.

“Right now we are trying to get a handle on what the potential impact of those rainfall figures across the catchment will be.”

Queensland experienced massive floods in early 2011 that ultimately claimed more than 30 lives, flooded thousands of homes and brought the state's capital Brisbane to a standstill, and Newman said he was aware that people were anxious.

But he said the city's dams, which were already releasing controlled discharges, would be able to absorb the floodwaters if the forecasts were correct.

He said a key difference from 2011 was that the dam levels now are already lower than they were then.

“I understand that people are anxious,” he said. “This is a tightrope, because I want to make sure that people have all the information but I don't want to alarm them unnecessarily. We are monitoring this very closely.” - Sapa-AFP

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