Australia battles wildfires, flooding


Wildfires threatened homes and new flooding forced evacuations in Australia today as officials warned that last week's huge cyclone would compound economic woes.

Hot and gusty conditions whipped up by Cyclone Yasi, a top-level tropical storm that ripped into Australia's northeast coast on Thursday, fanned an out-of-control blaze on the outskirts of Perth yesterday, damaging 60 buildings, including homes and businesses.

"The bushfire is moving fast in a north-westerly direction. It is out of control and unpredictable," the Fire and Emergency Services Authority in western Australia said in a statement. "There is a threat to lives and homes."

High winds forced the grounding of water-bombing aircraft, and residents in the fire's path were warned they were in danger and needed "to act immediately to survive".

More than 150 people fled the roof-height flames for evacuation centres on the west coast, as the southeastern state of Victoria paused to mark two years since the 'Black Saturday' firestorm that claimed 173 lives.

Fire-ravaged towns were among those those hit by Yasi-linked flash floods overnight which forced thousands of people from their homes in Victoria, still reeling from widespread flooding last month that also hit north-eastern Queensland state.

Meanwhile, support for the Australian government has plummeted following a summer of natural disasters and as Prime Minister Julia Gillard fights for a new tax to pay for flood and cyclone reconstruction.

A new poll published in the Australian newspaper shows that if an election was held today, Ms Gillard would be swept from office.

Primary support for the ruling Labour party had slipped to 32 per cent, 6 points lower than in last August's dead heat election. On a two-party basis, which is a better indication of who would win an election, Labour trails with 48 per cent compared with 52 perc ent for the conservative opposition.

But in some good news for the government, the poll found 55 per cent support for Ms Gillard's plan for a special "floods tax" on middle- and high-income families to raise about A$1.8 billion (€1.3 billion) to help pay for disaster reconstruction.