At least nine people were found dead in Australia after storms and floods in the eastern part of the country caused power outages and damaged infrastructure over the Christmas holiday period, the authorities said.
The extreme weather this week has mainly affected people in the eastern states of Queensland and Victoria. Even as rainfall tapered on Wednesday, search and rescue operations continued in flooded areas, and power crews were trying to restore electricity to tens of thousands of homes.
“While many Australians are enjoying their well-earned holidays, our essential services and emergency personnel are working grueling shifts to keep the lights on and to keep us safe,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on social media.
Here’s what we know.
Queensland was hardest hit.
Two weeks ago, a storm that ripped through the coastal city of Brisbane, Queensland’s state capital, left at least one person dead. But this week’s extreme weather — three or more inches of rain fell in parts of Queensland over a 24-hour period ending Wednesday morning — was even more deadly.
The Queensland authorities have linked at least seven deaths to the storms, including a woman killed by a falling tree in Gold Coast on Monday and three men whose bodies were found after motorboat carrying 11 people overturned on Tuesday in Moreton Bay, near Brisbane. (The other eight people were rescued.)
Emergency workers also found the bodies of two women during a search operation in a flooded river north of Brisbane, as well as the body of a nine-year-old girl who had gone missing during flooding in a suburb south of the city, the police said on Wednesday.
More than 60,000 electricity customers were still without power in southeastern Queensland on Wednesday, according to the energy utility Energex. And in Gold Coast, a city south of Brisbane, the mayor said that heavy rain and high winds had damaged about 1,400 homes, toppled trees and power lines, and disrupted the water supply.
The weather system that caused the storms in Queensland, a state that spans more than a fifth of Australia, was clearing on Wednesday night. But heat wave conditions were expected in some areas of Thursday and Friday, along with another possible round of thunderstorms over the weekend.
Victoria felt impacts, too.
The storms this week also caused damage and death in the southeastern state of Victoria, which includes Melbourne.
Two people died when a campground about 200 miles east of Melbourne flooded on Tuesday, the local news media reported. The police confirmed one of the deaths, saying that several vehicles in the campground area were underwater when emergency workers arrived.
Separately, a woman and her dog were rescued on Tuesday after being swept downstream in a river that runs near Melbourne. Neither was seriously injured.
Several flood watches and warnings remained in effect across Victoria late Wednesday, even as rainfall in the area tapered, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.
How is this connected to climate change?
Not every extreme weather event can be immediately attributed to global warming, but scientists have repeatedly warned that heating up the planet will bring more heat, wildfires, droughts and intense rainfall, among other things. An additional risk these days is that El Niño, a natural weather pattern that can play out over several years, will further aggravate weather extremes around the world.
Australia has already faced a lot of extreme weather in recent months, including a very dry early autumn, a wetter-than-average November and an early-arriving tropical cyclone in December.
Now, as summer begins in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia is heading into wildfire season. Experts say it could prove to the worst for the country since the deadly blazes of 2019 and 2020, which killed hundreds of people and left tens of thousands of acres charred.