Australian floods highlight record rainfall

Many of the thousands of people affected by Australia's worst floods in decades returned to their homes to find them caked in sludge while others nervously watched for more rain and waited for swollen rivers to recede.

Infrastructure repairs could take years, Queensland officials say

Severe flooding in eastern Australia that forced thousands of people to flee their homes ended one of the wettest years ever recorded.

The second half of 2010 was the rainiest since record-keeping began in 1900, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology reported in its annual climate statement Friday.

Overall, the year was the wettest since 2000 and the third-wettest on record.

Queensland, the northeastern state inundated by Australia's worst flood in decades, has just come out of its rainiest December on record.

Mud-caked debris piles up in front of a house in Condamine, Australia, after flood waters washed away or ruined household items from hundreds of homes on Friday. ((Dean Saffron/Associated Press))

Tropical rains began just before Christmas and poured down for days, flooding an area the size of France and Germany combined. The waters destroyed 1,200 homes in 40 communities and damaged 11,000 others, affecting around 200,000 people. Police say 10 people have died in swollen rivers or floodwaters since late November.

The flooding has shut 40 coal mines in Queensland, and damaged crops such as wheat, mangoes and sugar cane. State Premier Anna Blight estimated that the price of rebuilding homes, businesses and infrastructure, coupled with economic losses, could be as high as $5 billion.

From the report

Australia's mean rainfall in 2010 was 690 millimeters, far above the long-term average of 565 millimeters. June was the only month last year with a total rainfall below the long-term average, the Bureau of Meteorology said. However, the rain wasn't shared evenly — Southwest Western Australia had its driest year on record. Tasmania had an average rainfall.

Many Queensland residents returned to their sludge-covered homes Friday as others still waited more than a week after murky brown waters spilled over their riverbanks, forcing about 4,000 from their homes.

Meanwhile, flood waters continued to rise in the town of St. George. However, officials said their peak height will be lower than previously predicted, so 30 fewer homes in the community of 2,500 were at risk.

Heavy rain fell Friday in several areas of the state, and the Bureau of Meteorology said the conditions could continue through the weekend. Officials said the rain was not enough to make the floods worse, but was hampering recovery efforts and could mean it would take longer for the crisis to ease.

With files from The Associated Press