Army Black Hawk helicopters were drafted in on Sunday as flooding on Australia’s east coast sent hundreds of families to evacuation centres and threatened to inundate thousands of homes, officials said.

A 27-year-old man is missing after being swept away in a raging river and a sailor drowned after his yacht was yanked from its moorings by cyclonic winds.

The river that runs through Bundaberg, 370 kilometres north of Brisbane, is expected to peak at its highest level since 1893.

Thousands are in evacuation centres and water has already gone through 40 houses. Residents are being told to expect several nights in makeshift accommodation.

Queensland state premier Campbell Newman said he expected more than 400 homes and businesses in Bundaberg to be inundated when the Burnett River reaches its record peak of an estimated 8.5 metres.

Gale-force winds linked to the cyclone from the Coral Sea that hammered ashore in north Queensland last week have damaged 250 homes in and around Bundamberg, the centre of the region’s sugar—cane industry.

In nearby Gympie, three families spent the day on their roofs because it is unsafe to try and reach them by boat.

“We haven’t been able to get choppers in their either because of the high winds,” Gympie mayor Ron Dyne told local news agency AAP.

“We can’t contact them because mobile phones don’t work out that way.” The hope was to get them off by nightfall.

Dams, which act as shock absorbers to mitigate flooding, were releasing water over spillways to make room for a fresh rush of upstream water.

The gates were open at Brisbane’s Wivenhoe Dam to sluice water out through the river systems and into the ocean before the onrush of floodwaters begins to menace Australia’s third-biggest city.

Two years ago, the dam failed to hold back floodwaters and more than 20,000 properties were swamped in what the federal government called the nation’s worst natural disaster.

“Dam managers are doing everything they can to take the shock out of the system and ensure we have the lowest possible levels in the Brisbane River,” Newman said.

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