Queen to meet Australian flood victims

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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II was to meet flood victims in the Australian city of Brisbane Monday and take a cruise along the once-raging river which in January submerged 30,000 homes.

The queen and Prince Philip left Canberra on a VIP air force jet bound for Australia's third-largest city, which experienced record flooding in January as the engorged Brisbane River broke its banks.

The floods brought the city to a standstill and dozens of people died as huge swathes of northeastern Queensland state vanished underwater after massive rains.

The region was still reeling from the floods when a powerful cyclone battered the coast, devastating homes and crops.

The queen, who boarded her flight in a pale mint dress and floral silk headscarf, will take a cruise down the Brisbane River before meeting flood victims and emergency workers at an afternoon reception.

Her grandson, Prince William, paid a similar visit to flooded areas in Australia earlier this year, and Buckingham Palace made a private donation to the flood relief effort.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said it would be a shot in the arm for those who had "done it very tough" after the disaster.

"The queen specifically requested the chance to meet personally with people whose lives have been affected and people who were out on the front line of the disaster," said Bligh.

"I think it will mean a lot to them that she's taken the time to come to Queensland in a very, very hectic schedule."

Crowds began gathering early along the banks of the river, which snakes through the heart of Brisbane, with schoolchildren, well-wishers and fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the monarch as she passes.

Local man Phil Hogan said his four children were among those on the riverfront, vividly recalling his own schoolboy sighting of the queen in 1970.

"It was a really big deal and we all had the flags to wave," he said.

"Everyone waited for hours, she sailed by, everyone went bananas and she was gone as quickly as she arrived."

"They'll find out it's worth the wait and they'll remember it forever," he added of his children.

Bligh will guide the monarch, 85, on her river cruise, pointing out areas that were completely submerged less than a year ago.

"She'll be able to see a city that's well and truly recovered," Bligh told ABC radio.

The queen is on a 10-day tour of Australia, her 16th and possibly last visit to the vast continent, which will take in Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne before finishing in Perth where she is due to open a Commonwealth summit.

© 2011 AFP

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