Prince William visits flood-hit Australian towns

AP News
|
Posted: Mar 20, 2011 5:54 AM
Prince William visits flood-hit Australian towns

Prince William met Sunday with the family of a 13-year-old Australian boy who gave his life to save his younger brother during devastating floods earlier this year.

The second in line to the British throne closed out a visit to disaster zones in Australia and New Zealand with brief but poignant stops in small towns where flash flooding ripped houses from their foundations and carried away cars during the worst of a weekslong crisis.

Jordan Rice was among 35 people killed in the floods, washed away with his mother in their car when floodwaters cascaded through the town of Toowoomba on Jan. 10. Trapped in the car as the water rose around them, the teenager told rescuers who reached them to grab his brother, Blake, 11, first.

William chatted with Blake and his father, John Tyson, on Sunday at one of several functions where the prince mingled with survivors of the flooding, which swamped a huge part of northeastern Queensland state starting late last year.

"He could feel our pain, you could see it in his eyes," Tyson said after meeting with the prince.

William's visit, which comes as anticipation builds around his wedding in late April to Kate Middleton, has been relatively low key out of respect for those affected by the disasters in the places he has toured, starting last week in the earthquake-struck city of Christchurch in New Zealand.

The focus has been on the prince meeting survivors in informal gatherings and getting briefings from officials on recovery efforts, rather than speeches or large ceremonial appearances. William hasn't talked directly to the media during the visits.

Flown by military helicopter, William stopped in the town of Grantham, which was almost completely wiped away by flash flooding in January that state officials described as an inland tsunami. He also visited Ipswich, a larger town that was one of many inundated by floodwaters that, at their worst, covered an area larger than France and Germany combined.

William heard survival tales from residents who lived through the disaster, and attended functions that included many barbecues and a country music festival where he took to the stage and waved a cowboy hat in a gesture to the crowd.

Australia, a former British colony, is a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II _ William's grandmother _ as head of state but is governed completely independently from Britain. While there is a strong movement backing full independence in the form of a republic, the queen and most of her heirs remain personally popular in Australia.