A koala licks rainwater off a road near Moree, New South Wales, Australia, on Saturday. Reuters
Parts of Australia's east coast were hit by severe storms on Saturday, dousing some of the bushfires that have devastated the region for months but causing road closures and flash flooding.
Fears of smoke from the fires disrupting the Australian Open tennis receded in Melbourne, where the main tournament was due to start on Monday.
Despite the heavy rain, authorities were still battling nearly 100 blazes — part of the bushfires that have killed 29 people since September, destroyed more than 2,500 homes and scorched an area nearly one-third the size of Germany.
Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, three of the states most hit by drought and bushfires, are now dealing with rain bucketing down in several areas.
Major highways were closed in Queensland on Saturday, with the state getting some of the heaviest rain Australia has seen for months, while power was cut in parts of New South Wales after a stormy night.
"Heavy, intense rainfall has eased, but showers and thunderstorms still possible through the weekend," the Bureau of Meteorology in Queensland said on Twitter on Saturday. "Take care on the roads - if it's flooded, forget it."
Parts of Queensland's south saw triple the monthly rainfall overnight. No major damage has been reported, although some residential areas were flooded and many of the state's parks and tourist attractions were closed.
New South Wales fire services welcomed the rain, which they said on Twitter would help to control the 75 fires burning in the state, of which 25 are yet to be contained.
But, they also said that some firegrounds have not seen any rain yet.
More benign storms were forecast for Victoria over the weekend, which has been hit this week already by severe storms and unhealthy smoke from the bushfires.
Skies were clear in Melbourne, however, for the final round of qualifying for the Australian Open, the year's first Grand Slam, and Victoria's Environmental
Protection rated the air quality as "good," after an earlier forecast of unhealthy air for the weekend.
There were still more than a dozen fires burning in Victoria on Saturday, with firefighters battling to contain a big blaze in the state's mountain region, fifteen times the size of Manhattan.
Victoria's emergency service also issued an evacuation warning due to a bushfire on Saturday for French Island, the state's largest coastal island with a small population of just above 100 people.
Fires continued to burn out of control in southern New South Wales and neighbouring Victoria state, but forecasters expected significant rainfall in those areas Sunday and Monday, raising hopes that some of those blazes could be brought under control as well.
The unprecedented fires, fuelled by climate change and a years-long drought, have claimed 28 lives over the past five months.
They have scorched massive tracts of forest and bushland in eastern and southern Australia, decimated livestock on already barren farms and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.
On Kangaroo Island, known as Australia's "Galapagos" for the large number of unique animals and other wildlife endemic to the area, fires continued to rage in a big national park.
The flames have already taken a heavy toll on the island's population of koalas, birds and other endemic marsupial species.
Authorities have warned the crisis could worsen again with Australia only halfway through its summer.
Ian McBeth of Great Falls, Montana, Paul Clyde Hudson of Buckeye, Arizona, and Rick A. DeMorgan of Navarre, Florida, died when their C-130 Hercules tanker crashed on Thursday after dumping fire retardant on an out-of-control blaze northeast of the town of Cooma in southern New South Wales state.
Optimism was further boosted on Tuesday with heavy rain forecast for some of the hotspots in the most populated eastern states of New South Wales and Victoria.
The current bushfire season has seen half the number of callouts in New South Wales state, at 5,500, as the previous season, the NSW Rural Fire Service said on Wednesday, and burned 31,000 hectares compared to 5.5 million hectares razed across the state during last season’s Black Summer wildfires.
Blasts at a Soviet-era dam in the Russian controlled part of southern Ukraine on Tuesday unleashed floodwaters across the war zone, according to both Ukrainian and Russian forces who blamed each other for blowing-up the dam.
Nearly 13,400 people were forced to evacuate as water consumed hundreds of homes around the country, turning some streets into raging rivers of brown water, according to Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency.
Sheikh Hamdan said on Twitter, "We extend our sincere condolences and sympathy to the family, relatives, companions and readers of Khalid Al Qashtini, the Iraqi journalist and writer, and the owner of the creative pen, who enriched our Arab world with his publications. With his departure, the Arab media loses a symbol of creativity.”