Image: Home crushed by tree
Tertius Pickard  /  AP
This home in Brisbane is one of many damaged or destroyed by trees toppled by weekend storms in Australia.
updated 11/18/2008 10:35:18 AM ET 2008-11-18T15:35:18

Australia's prime minister on Tuesday toured an area devastated by violent weekend storms and promised cash payments to residents left homeless.

Sunday's storms blew roofs off houses, dumped golf ball-sized hail and torrential rains, causing flash flooding and knocking out power to more than 230,000 homes and businesses along a 112-mile stretch of southeast Queensland state coastline. One man was killed in the storm after being swept down a storm drain.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Tuesday visited a badly damaged suburb of Brisbane, the state's capital.

"This is a natural disaster big time," he told reporters.

He said the government would make payments of 1,000 Australia dollars ($646) per adult, and AU$400 ($259) per dependent child to families whose homes were destroyed.

Rudd also said 350 army troops were being deployed to assist in the clean up and more would be sent if needed.

Around 12,000 homes were still without power on Tuesday, energy supplier Energex said.

Queensland state premier Anna Bligh said it could be days before the full extent of the damage was realized.

"There's a lot of work to be done and it's going to take days," she said. "We're not expecting sunshine till Friday, so it's all going to be done in rain."

Bligh likened Sunday's storm to Cyclone Larry, the category 5 storm that battered Queensland with 180 mph winds two years ago, devastating farming towns and flattening banana and sugar cane plantations.

"It looks like there's been a bomb, a great big bomb go off in all the streets. It's just terrible," Brisbane resident Davina Thomas told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Monday. "My daughter's had her roof blown off. It's in the pool."

Between 2 and 2 3/4 inches of rain soaked the region, with winds gusting at up to 80 mph, the Bureau of Meteorology reported.

A 20-year-old man and his 23-year-old friend who had climbed into a storm drain in Brisbane to photograph the storm Sunday were sucked downwards when the water suddenly rose. Rescuers were able to yank the older man to safety, but the 20-year-old disappeared in the raging waters. His lifeless body was found hours later, Queensland police spokesman Ben Tracey said.

In the Outback town of Alice Springs, hundreds of tourists were stranded in a separate weekend storm after some areas saw up to 4 1/2 inches of rain, which flooded several main roads. Some roads around Alice Springs remained closed on Monday.

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