A swollen river submerged bridges and inundated homes and stores on January 9 in Australia's already sodden Queensland state as more heavy rain added to the country's worst flooding in decades.

Maryborough became the latest of some 40 towns to be partly awash as a river running through it burst its banks and entered parts of the town of 22,000, which has been heavily protected by sandbags and levies. Downstream, residents of Gympie were frantically sandbagging their town in anticipation of flooding there on January 10.

The latest flooding was not as bad as in recent weeks, when entire towns were submerged beneath an inland sea the size of France and Germany combined, but was a sign that the ground has little capacity left to soak up any more moisture, so any new rain is likely to make matters worse, officials said.

Some areas of Queensland have had more than eight inches (200 millimetres) of rain the past 24 hours, the Bureau of Meteorology said on late January 9. “This year, with all of the catchments primed and the rivers already flooding, that 200 millimetres of rain will mean something very different,” said Warren Bridson, acting chief of the state emergency services. “It could mean the difference between a minor flood and a major flood.”

Roads and rail lines have been cut, Queensland's big-exporting coal mine industry has virtually shut down, and cattle ranching and farming across a large part of the state are at a standstill.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard flew on January 8 to several towns that were cut off or partly submerged by floodwaters, and promised residents they would be fully restored. Queensland officials have said the price of rebuilding homes, businesses and infrastructure, coupled with economic losses, could be as high as $5 billion. Australia's worst flooding in some 50 years was caused by tropical rains that fell for days, starting just before Christmas.— AP