Residents of a previously drought-stricken area of southeastern Australian were Friday being evacuated to safety as rising floodwaters threatened to swamp homes and farmland.

Scores of people have already been evacuated by army helicopters and police from homes in Gippsland in the east of Victoria state as officials warned that the deluge could worsen as rivers peak.

Jeff Amos, deputy mayor of the Wellington Shire Council, said it was ironic that residents who had recently battled savage bushfires and a long-standing drought had been confronted almost overnight with a flood emergency.

"It was a fair deluge during the past week which has put an end to the drought in one way," Amos told AFP. "But unfortunately it's probably going to do more damage than good.

"We've gone from drought to being completely under water."

Many roads remain closed, scores of schools have been shut and hundreds of homes are without power while the dairy farming town of Newry has disappeared under water.

"Everything gets swept away and everything's chaotic," Prime Minister John Howard told commercial radio as he pledged extra cash relief for those affected.

Victorian state Premier Steve Bracks said he was concerned for the towns of Sale and Bairnsdale which appear to be in the path of the floodwaters as a king tide is expected later Friday.

"There is an enormous body of water coming out of Lake Glenmaggie which is going over the spillway, that will come close to those towns," he said.

"It's a big flood."

Oz flood devastation worst for 40 years
icWales, 29 June 2007

Massive floodwaters swept across parts of Australia's drought-parched south east, forcing hundreds of people to abandon their homes and businesses in the region's worst deluge in nearly 40 years.

Several rivers in the Gippsland region of south-eastern Victoria state burst their banks yesterday after two days of heavy rain inundated the region after months of severe drought.

Police helicopters airlifted around 100 people to safety from several flooded towns and Victoria's premier Steve Bracks warned residents downstream to brace for the onslaught today.

"There's a body of water that's coming," Bracks told the Nine television network, adding that the floods were the worst Victoria had seen in 37 years.

Television footage showed a mile-wide river of muddy floodwaters engulfing homes, barns and paddocks, leaving herds of cattle stranded in ankle-deep swamps.

Arthur Williams and his 11-year-old nephew were among those rescued from the tiny hamlet of Tinamba.

"My nephew was crying as we were being airlifted because it was the first time anything like that happened to him, but for me it was quite a fun experience," Williams told The Age newspaper. "It was amazing seeing the land from up high - there's just water for miles."

Geoff Ponsford, a farmer from near Tinamba, had been wading in water up to his armpits to check on his neighbours when he realised he needed to evacuate and called police for a helicopter airlift.

"They came and got me half an hour later," he told The Age. "There was hardly a dry place any where. I was frozen. The lowest water was up to my knees."

More than 90 people were evacuated from the nearby dairy farming town of Newry, around 120 miles north east of Melbourne, when the swollen Macalister River inundated the town.

Constable Rachel O'Brien said police helicopters would continue to search the area's outlying farms today to search for anyone trapped by the floods.

Hundreds of displaced residents have fled to makeshift relief shelters, while the state and federal government have promised relief to help rebuild homes.