updated 3/18/2004 12:12:34 PM ET 2004-03-18T17:12:34

Locusts have swarmed through the Australian Outback, devastating crops just as farmers had begun recovering from a two-year drought.

Agriculture officials say the insects hatched in northeastern Australia after heavy rains last month. They began migrating south, feeding on newly spouted crops of oats and alfalfa.

“A thick haze of them came through over the weekend and chomped their way through our oats crop overnight,” said Bev Dennis from her farm in Tomingley, 340 miles west of Sydney.

The oats were intended for lambs, which have struggled for two years with little green grass as vast tracts of Australia experienced their lowest rainfall in a century.

“We were just staggering out of the drought — we are incredibly frustrated,” Dennis said. “I just kept on thinking it’s got to get better, but now we’ve got this.”

Added her husband, Joe Dennis: “In a few days we will see locusts that will just black the sun out. And you know there won’t be a green thing. They’ll even ... eat our clothes off the washing lines.”

Agriculture officials have started spraying regions in southwest Queensland and northern New South Wales states with insecticide in an effort to stop the further spread of the plague, but they warn it could get much worse.

“Given the fact that adult locusts can migrate long distances — sometimes more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) in a night — the potential exists over the next few weeks for plague locusts to move into new areas,” Agriculture Minister Warren Truss said.

Dennis said the locusts had cost her “tens of thousands of dollars” in lost income.

“If only we could chocolate coat them and send them off somewhere to sell,” she said.

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