CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Two men trapped in vehicles hundreds of kilometers (miles) apart have become the first fatalities of record flooding on Australia’s east coast.
A car got trapped in floodwater northwest of Sydney at dawn Wednesday and emergency services later recovered it with a body inside, officials said. The body, believed to be that of a 25-year-old Pakistani national, has yet to be formally identified.
An emergency crew later retrieved the body of David Hornman from an upturned pickup truck in a flooded creek 680 kilometers (420 miles) north near Gold Coast city in Queensland state, police said. The 38-year-old was last seen Monday.
While rain has eased across New South Wales and southern Queensland, flooding has persisted. Most rivers had peaked by Thursday, but 20,000 people were still evacuated from their homes, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
Emergency services have made hundreds of rescues since the flooding began last week. Parts of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, have received one-in-50-year and one-in-100-year rainfall records in the past week.
Insurance companies expect the damage in New South Wales to exceed 1 billion Australian dollars ($760 million).
Before the Queensland death was reported, Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed the Parliament’s condolences to the family of the man who died in the rural suburb of Sydney.
Morrison reflected on the state’s recent struggles — years of drought across most of the state culminated in catastrophic wildfires last summer. The fires were followed by the coronavirus pandemic and now record floods.
“We have seen so much over the course of the past year and more as this country has battled so many things — floods, fires, viruses, drought and now these floods again,” Morrison told Parliament.
In the Vatican, Pope Francis offered encouragement in the aftermath of the Australian flooding.
“In the past days, great floods have caused serious damage in New South Wales,” Francis said in his customary Wednesday remarks to the faithful.
“I stand close to the people and the families hit by this calamity, especially those who saw their houses destroyed. I encourage those who are helping to look for the dispersed and to bring their support,” he added.
A flotilla of boats was delivering crucial supplies to isolated communities on the flooded Hawkesbury River northwest of Sydney and ferrying stranded residents to safety.
Morrison took a flight over the river to survey the damage Wednesday.
“The expanse of water that went right across that region was quite devastating to see and to see the homes, only their roofs and those of out sheds,” Morrison said.
Cabinet Minister Peter Dutton said more than 700 defense personnel would soon be deployed as the floods recede to help people return to their homes and businesses as quickly as possible.