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JANUARY 15, 2003

Drought takes toll in Melbourne

Setting up in Melbourne has already started in preparation for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on March 9 but organizers are facing an unusual problems because of the country's severe drought. Rather than being its usual lush green, Albert Park is very dry and its grass a yellowish-brown color. Although the city is in the grip of Australian Open tennis fever at the moment, the local media has started turning its attention to what the state of Albert Park will mean for the staging of the Grand Prix and in particular the telecast of the park around the world.

Organizers say priority will be made of ensuring that the verges of the track are in the best possible order for the race both because of safety issues and for the sake of appearances.

There are also concerns about the pontoon bridge that normally straddles Albert Park Lake so that spectators can get from one side of the venue to the other easily and quickly. The sailing regatta usually held on the lake during the Grand Prix weekend has reportedly been cancelled because of the water level in the lake and a Melbourne newspaper is reporting that the 49-hectare lake which normally holds about 700 million litres of water but is down by 245 million liters because of the drought.

The worry for the organizers is that the situation could get worse before it gets better because February is Melbourne's hottest month and at the moment there is little prospect of drought-breaking rain.