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Flood-ravaged Australia braces for more rising water

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Australia deals with flood disaster
  • NEW: City of Emerald is isolated, accessible only by helicopter
  • Half of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone
  • Helicopters help evacuate an entire town of 300 people

(CNN) -- Parts of northeast Australia braced for more flooding Thursday, a day after the nation's prime minister promised aid to flood-ravaged towns, and half of the state of Queensland was declared a disaster zone.

Emerald, an inland city of 15,000 residents, had essentially been isolated by flood waters and was accessible only by helicopter.

"Things have changed drastically overnight," said Megan Lewis, a radio reporter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, in an interview from the city on Thursday. "Yesterday the town was expecting things to not be so bad."

Waters have reached 15.4 meters (51 feet) there and are expected to rise another meter on Friday, she said. Lewis did not specify exactly where in the town that level was reached.

Some Emerald residents have been making their way to evacuation centers around the city, while others are stockpiling food and supplies.

Thousands flee flooding in Australia
Queensland flood exodus continues
  • Australia

On Wednesday, the Australian government provided two Blackhawk helicopters to help evacuate all 300 residents from the town of Theodore, one of the worst affected by the floods.

Queensland Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said Theodore was one of about 20 communities that had to be evacuated because of the floods.

"Most of our major river systems have been in flood over the last week," Roberts told CNN.

Besides Emerald, the other major population center threatened by flooding is Rockhampton, a city of 50,000 on the coast, he said.

Forecasters have said the weather would clear over the next 48 hours, Roberts said, but the heavy rain the area has had so far means water has built up in river catchment areas.

"It does take a day to three days, in some instances, for that water to come down in some of the cities that are under threat, so we're over the worst of the rain, but some of the worst flooding is still yet to come," he said.

The Bureau of Meteorology said flood warnings remained in place for many areas of Australia, with major and moderate flooding still occurring throughout much of Queensland's southern half.

Thirty-one of Queensland's 73 communities are now receiving government disaster assistance, Prime Minister Julia Gillard's office announced.

Acting Attorney General Brendan O'Connor said the government would continue to monitor the situation in disaster-declared areas across Australia and work with state authorities to provide more assistance.