Three dead, two missing as heavy rain ravages coast

A WEEK after some of the hottest temperatures on record, three Queenslanders are dead and two men remain missing as winds and torrential rain lash the east coast and flooding wreaks havoc in parts of northern NSW.

Ex-tropical cyclone Oswald has brought strong winds and constant rain that has isolated parts of Queensland and the northern rivers area of NSW with 500 homes in Lismore evacuated on Monday night.

While the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, thanked firefighters who battled the bushfires in Victoria's Gippsland last week, the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, was at the State Emergency Service headquarters in Brisbane to help fill sand bags. SES volunteers in both states responded to thousands of calls.

Communities at risk include Byron Bay, Ballina, Grafton, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie. Affected towns west of the Dividing Range include Moree and Inverell, and to the south the eastern parts of the Hunter Valley, including Newcastle.

The storm front was expected to move south to the Sydney metropolitan area in the early hours of Tuesday, bringing more wild weather.

The Lismore mayor, Jenny Dowell, said while there was flooding many homes were not affected. ''The people of north and south Lismore have lived with floods for many years. They know when it is safe and when to go. The people understand floods.''

An evacuation centre had been set up at Southern Cross University in Lismore, she said. ''There is a lot of wind damage and a number of trees are knocked down. There are homes with no electricity and some people are without water. This is not good,'' she said.

The deputy mayor, Simon Clough, said the Wilson river was expected to peak at 9.7 metres at midnight on Monday, one metre below the levy.

''There is light rain. It's very overcast, low cloud and occasional strong winds but Lismore is a flood town and I don't think anyone is panicking,'' he said.

The weather could interrupt back-to-school plans this week, with classes due to resume on Wednesday. A spokesman for the Department of Education and Communities advised parents to contact their school to find out if it would open as planned.

Grafton has been hit by a major flood and a new warning was issued for Murwillumbah and Chinderah as the Tweed River catchment flooded on Monday.

The weather bureau upgraded its flood warning for the Clarence and Orara rivers to ''moderate to major'', after the Clarence reached the ''major'' level of 5.53 metres on Monday morning.

Queensland was hit the hardest with Bundaberg suffering its worst flood on record.

Helicopters rescued residents trapped on their rooftops and it is believed 1200 homes were damaged by the floods.

People living along the Logan and Albert rivers south of Brisbane were warned to prepare for flooding as water levels rose on Monday night.

Senior sergeant Grant Marcus, the executive officer of Bundaberg District Disaster Management, said as many as 1000 people in north Bundaberg had been taken to safety by Black Hawk helicopter.

West of Brisbane, in the Lockyer Valley, where floods took 19 lives in 2011, evacuations have been carried out as flood levels exceeded previous levels.

On Sunday night a motorcyclist in Greenbank, south of Brisbane, was washed away as passers-by tried to rescue him. His body was pulled from the Oxley creek, south of Brisbane.

In Burnett Heads, near Bundaberg, an 81-year-old man died after falling off his yacht as he tried to secure it against wild weather.

A 27-year-old man was washed away on Sunday when he tried with two others to cross a flooded creek near Gympie. His companions were rescued by an SES team but the man's body was found in Widgee Creek on Monday morning.

The skipper of a 12-metre boat off the coast of Rockhampton has been missing since Thursday when he sent a mayday call that his boat was taking on water. A second man on the boat swam to Balaclava Island but police are still searching for the skipper.

On Sunday afternoon NSW police launched a search when a man, described as 50 to 60 years old, did not return to shore from swimming at Norah Head on the central coast.

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