13 mins ago

SYDNEY – Thunderstorms are forecast to soak the already flooded communities in northeastern Australia.

Residents in the path of a rising river are frantically filling sandbags for a makeshift levee against the predicted 46-foot (14-meter) peak.

More than 4,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in the flood zone, which encompasses an area larger than France and Germany combined. The United Nations offered its assistance to flood-ravaged communities.

In the southern Queensland town of St. George on Thursday, residents worked to add to the supply of 10,000 sandbags already filled this week. The town of 2,500 residents was bracing for the Balonne River to peak at a record high by Sunday.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

SYDNEY (AP) — Australia put an army general in charge of flood recovery Wednesday after weeks of heavy rains deluged the country's coal-producing northeast, crippling the area's economy and sending out reverberations felt in energy markets around the world.

Floodwaters have forced most of Queensland state's coal mines to shut and some may not restart production for months, ministers said at an emergency Cabinet meeting in Brisbane, the state capital.

After the meeting, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh announced that Maj. Gen. Mick Slater would lead the recovery effort of floods that have affected 200,000 people and are estimated to cost billions of dollars.

"This is a disaster of an unprecedented scale and it will require an unparalleled rebuilding effort," Bligh told reporters.

But until the waters dry up, it won't be clear what the cost of the flooding will be, Bligh warned.