Four people perish in flooding along Australia's east coast

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SYDNEY — Four people were dead Tuesday and two missing after a storm engorged rivers and flooded homes along 435 miles of Australia’s east coast.

Floodwaters have inundated more than 2,500 properties from the Queensland sugar town of Bundaberg to the resort of Coffs Harbour in the south. Thousands faced a third night in evacuation centers, many having lost homes, cars and other possessions in some of the worst flooding on record.

“Their hearts have been ripped out, leaving their most precious possessions behind,” Queensland state Emergency Services Minister Jack Dempsey said in Bundaberg. “They’re simply looking to each other for comfort.”

A 3-year-old boy crushed by a falling tree became the fourth known death. A yachtsman drowned after his craft was wrenched from its moorings, a disabled man in a wheelchair was carried away by floodwaters; and a motorcyclist died trying to cross a swollen river.

Bundaberg, a city of 70,000, could be reached only by air.

Flooding closed the local hospital, forcing the military to use Hercules transport planes to evacuate patients to hospitals in Brisbane.

Fourteen helicopters were busy plucking people from rooftop and high ground to take them to evacuation centers.

The river that runs through Bundaberg, 240 miles north of Brisbane, peaked at a record 31 feet.

Officials said the storms had passed and the worst of the flooding may be over.

Kerry Preston, who saw her house go under, told the national broadcaster ABC that the record flood carried all away.

“We had an ocean in front of our house,” she said. “It just come across and broke and filled everything up. We jumped over the back fence and got out by boat.”

John Dann, another resident in an evacuation centre, told ABC how he put prized possessions on a bed intending to pack them up and take them when he and his wife fled.

“The water’s just lifted the carpet up and tipped the bloody beds up so we’ve lost the lot,” he said.

In Brisbane, Australia’s third-biggest city, flooding was not on the same scale as in 2011 when water went through 20,000 properties.

Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk Quirk said there were no reports of water above floorboards.

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