Storms sweep south after flooding Queensland

MARISSA CALLIGEROS AND PETER HANNAM
Last updated 09:54 29/01/2013
Fairfax Australia

Floodwaters flow into restaurants in Brisbane as heavy rain and floods hit Queensland.

Thousands forced out of homes

Submerged car magically appears

Floods continue to hamper Queensland

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Thousands of people have been evacuated in Queensland and northern New South Wales as deadly storms move south down Australia's east coast, drenching Sydney with its biggest downpour in decades.

Four people have been killed by ex-tropical cyclone Oswald in Queensland, with a three-year-old boy becoming the latest victim overnight.

The toddler was with his family watching floodwaters rise in northern Brisgane when a large gum tree fell on them.

The little boy died of severe head injuries at the Royal Children's Hospital.

His pregnant 34-year-old mother remains in a critical condition in hospital with several broken bones and severe head injuries after becoming trapped beneath the tree.

In the sugar town of Bundaberg, an emergency airlift was the only option for 1500 stranded residents to escape fast-flowing waters believed capable of sweeping entire houses away last night.

The force of the flood - running at an estimated 70kmh - meant residents could not be reached by boat.

"The water is everywhere ... it's the worst flood on record," Bundaberg Mayor Mal Forman said.

There were more than 2000 homes underwater in Bundaberg - by far the worst-affected city - with thousands of residents bunkered down in schools and at the site of the town's new showgrounds.

BRISBANE READY FOR FLOODS

Brisbane and Ipswich residents were braced for flood peaks expected today in areas containing nearly 5000 homes, units and commercial properties.

On the 11am (2pm NZT) high tide, the Brisbane River is forecast to peak at 2.6 metres, nearly half of the 4.46 metre peak in 2011. A second flood peak is likely at midday tomorrow.

Premier Campbell Newman has repeatedly assured Brisbane and Ipswich residents the floods will be nothing like those two years ago that swept across Queensland, killing 35 people and leaving a A$6 billion reconstruction task.

But, for many, the memories are too raw.

Louise Toohey, whose home was inundated two years ago, was among anxious residents evacuating homes yesterday.

"I feel sick to the core," said told Sky News. "I can't believe it's happening again."

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the crisis in Queensland was "breaking hearts".

STORM MOVES ON

Southern NSW was being told to prepare for driving rain and 100km winds as the storms sparked evacuations in the state's north.

As the impact of the massive storm spreads from Queensland, more than 1500 people have been told to evacuate their homes in Lismore, Ulmarra, Cowper and Brushgrove in northern NSW with warnings of flooding as rivers peak throughout the day.

The NSW State Emergency Service said the focus would be on the south of the state, with a severe weather warning issued for Sydney, the Hunter and Central Coast, Illawarra and the south coast and parts of the Central Tablelands.

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Floodwaters have also cut off all roads between the two states and isolated about 2000 people in northern NSW.

Hundreds of people were evacuated downstream of Grafton and spent the night in emergency accommodation.

Parts of Sydney have been drenched in their heaviest daily rainfall totals in more than a decade as the wild storm system washed over the city.

Weatherzone meteorologist Brett Dutschke said Sydney was saturated in widespread rainfall totals of between 80 and 150 millimetres overnight, causing localised flooding in some areas.

State Emergency Service spokesman Michael Eburn said officers had responded to 2900 calls for assistance for help across NSW, mostly in the north of the state.

However that number could rise rapidly as people woke and assessed the damage to their properties.

DEATH TOLL

Those killed in Queensland included a motorcyclist from Oxley Creek, south of Brisbane yesterday. He had been swept off a flooded bridge before horrified onlookers on Sunday night.

In Burnett Heads, near Bundaberg, an 81-year-old man died after falling off his yacht as he tried to secure it against wild weather on Sunday.

And a 27-year-old man, who is believed to have been disabled, was washed away on Sunday when he and his mother and step-father tried to cross a flooded creek near Gympie.

It is understood the man's step-father was rescued shortly after the car was swamped, but his mother was forced to cling to tree for more than four hours before she could be saved.
- Fairfax Australia and AAP

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