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Australia airlifts aid to flood victims

Military aircraft dropped supplies to towns cut off by floods in northeastern Australia as the prime minister promised new assistance Friday to the 200,000 people affected by waters covering an area larger than France and Germany combined.

Residents were stocking up on food or evacuating their homes as rising rivers inundated or isolated 22 towns in the state of Queensland.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard toured an evacuation center in the flood-stricken town of Bundaberg on Friday and announced that families whose homes had been flooded or damaged would be eligible for disaster relief payments of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child.

"My concern is for the people in these very difficult times," Gillard said.

A day earlier, she pledged $1 million in federal aid to match a relief fund already set up by the state government.

Officials say half of Queensland's 715,305 square miles is affected by the relentless flooding, which began last week after days of pounding rain caused swollen rivers to overflow. The flood zone covers an area bigger than the state of Texas.

The muddy water inundating thousands of homes and businesses has led to a shortage of drinking water and raised fears of mosquito-borne disease.

"This is without a doubt a tragedy on an unprecedented scale," Queensland Premier Anna Bligh told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Bligh warned that drenched communities could be stuck underwater for more than a week, and cleanup efforts were expected to cost billions of dollars.

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