Flood toll to rise, weather hits Brisbane

Last updated 01:07 12/01/2011

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard warns the country to be prepared for more deaths in the Queensland flood disaster.

Brisbane Flooded
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Debris floats near a house submerged by flood waters west of Brisbane.

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Brisbane is headed for its worst floods since 1893, as a tenth flood death is confirmed.

A disaster declaration had been made for the lower half of Queensland, including the greater Brisbane area, giving authorities forced evacuation powers if necessary.

As the floods entered Brisbane, immediate evacuations were underway in Strathpine and Caboolture north of Brisbane, amid warnings flood levels are expected to be greater than in 1974.

In Ipswich, southwest of Brisbane, more than 1000 residents have evacuated their homes as floodwaters continue to rise in the city.

The death toll of this week's devastating floods has risen to 10, with 78 still missing, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said tonight.


Are you caught in the flooding? Do you have photos? Email us at newstips@stuff.co.nz



Bligh confirmed the 10th death, a four-year-old boy who was swept away after he fell out of a boat near Marburg, west of Ipswich.

‘‘The best advice we have at this stage is that this boy’s life was lost during an attempt to rescue him and his family,’’ she said.

There is a strong suggestion the current death toll will rise.

Bligh said the situation developing in Brisbane and Ipswich to the west was “frightening”, with evacuations under way ahead of the Brisbane River’s expected peak on Thursday.

“Ipswich and Brisbane are now facing their greatest threat and their toughest test in more than 35 years,” Bligh said.

“The current predictions indicate that the river will continue to rise into Thursday, with flood levels expected higher than the 1974 peak.”

Bligh said there would be large-scale impacts on Brisbane suburbs.

“We would expect to see 9000 properties affected significantly by this water level and more than 30,000 other properties having some impact,” she said.

“So we do expect to see large-scale impacts in suburbs around Brisbane.”

Depending on the extent of flooding over the next few days, up to 100,000 power customers could have their electricity cut.

In a statement, Energex said electricity sub-stations were mainly located in buildings close to the Brisbane River, which was expected to reach near-record levels during the next few days.

Lord Mayor Campbell Newman also warned that the worst of Brisbane’s flooding was yet to come, with Thursday likely to be "devastating".

Deputy Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said a disaster declaration had been made for the lower half of the state to include the greater Brisbane area.

‘‘As the premier said, this is not the time to baulk when you are asked to leave or asked to support emergency workers in the way we will help prepare the city for this certain flood event,’’ he said.

The powers allow police to forcibly remove people if necessary, Stewart said.

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Newman said the rain had continued and the forecast for the expected flood impact had worsened since yesterday.

"The situation has obviously demonstratively deteriorated significantly," Newman said.

"Today [the flooding] is very significant, tomorrow is bad and Thursday is going to be devastating for the residents and businesses concerned."

EVACUATION IN IPSWICH

More than 1000 Ipswich residents have evacuated their homes as floodwaters continue to rise in the city.

The Bremer River is now expected to peak at more than 21 metres over night.

Hundreds of people have flocked to an evacuation centre at the Ipswich Showground with other locations, including the Ipswich Girls Grammar School, also opening its doors.

The swollen river is rushing through parts of the city and a number of streets are completely submerged under metres of water.

The majority of evacuees are from the suburb of North Ipswich and police are advising households near the Bremer River to consider leaving.

SES controller Arie van den Ende said today a child was killed when floodwaters hit the region.

"They got the mum but they couldn't get the kid [out of floodwaters]," he told AAP.

Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale said earlier up to one third of the city could be flooded when the Bremer River peaks.

Pisasale said there were "hundreds of streets" that would be closing.

"People have got to prepare for the worst," he said.

FAMILIES UNACCOUNTED FOR

Bligh has warned the death toll from the devastating floods that swept through the Toowoomba region yesterday may rise "quite dramatically", with whole families missing.

Her warning came after nine people were confirmed dead and 66 people were listed as missing, as continuing rain was blamed for hampering rescue efforts.

Bligh said "whole families" were unaccounted for after Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley were deluged yesterday.

"We're hoping and praying that many of those people have gone to safety overnight and will be found safe and well," she said.

"But given the circumstances we hold very grave concerns for many of those people.

"Many of the people who are stranded or unaccounted for are families and young children and some of those who have lost their lives overnight are young children, including a mother and two children in a vehicle."

She said authorities had searched all of the cars that had been swept away in Toowoomba and not located any additional people.

The other victims were a woman and two children who died in a vehicle at Grantham, a middle-aged man and a young man who died in the Murphys Creek area, and an elderly woman who died in her home at Helidon.

“Half of the [confirmed deaths] so far are children,” Ms Bligh said. “We have a grave and desperate situation in the Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley region.”

Bligh said it was clear Queensland was now mired in a very different sort of disaster.

‘‘It is testing our emergency resources and it will test us as a community and as people,’’ she said.

‘‘It might be breaking our hearts at the moment, but it will not break our will.’’

NO REPORTS OF MISSING KIWIS

New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said there were likely to be many New Zealanders in flood affected areas of Queensland, but so far there were no reports of any injured or missing Kiwis.

"We have received some enquiries about New Zealanders we are continuing to monitor the situation and are in touch with Australian authorities," a spokeswoman said.

The ministry asked those concerned about New Zealanders in the area to try to contact them directly in the first instance, and if unable to confirm their wellbeing, then call the ministry.

COMMUTERS RUSH TO LEAVE BRISBANE CBD

Earlier today, authorities pleaded for people not to panic as commuters rushed to leave the CBD on employers' orders.

Police advised there have been no forced evacuations in the CBD, however numerous employers have advised their workers to go home, including department stores Myer and David Jones in the Queen Street Mall.

Deputy Mayor Graham Quirk called for residents to remain clear-headed.

‘‘People need to be sensible and not panic, but they need to be prepared," Quirk said.

"What we’ve seen today is a fair bit of panic. We’ve had a significant departure of people from the CBD going back to their homes.”

An evacuation centre has been set up at the RNA Showgrounds at Bowen Hills for residents affected by floods.

A Brisbane City Council statement said the centre had been set up for those who wanted to evacuate of their own accord and could not be accommodated with family or friends.

Residents were advised to take their own pillows and sheets, medication, important documents and spare clothing. Pets were unable to be accommodated at the evacuation centre, council said.

BODIES FOUND

A woman and a boy were found dead in the Toowoomba CBD and a man and a boy were killed at nearby Murphys Creek after a massive body of water from weeks of heavy rain tore through the town.

Troy Campbell, of James Street Motor Inn in Toowoomba, said the dead woman and two boys, believed to be her sons, had been in trouble in front of his motel near the intersection of James and Kitchener streets.

He said one of the boys was rescued.

"There were some people who made [their] way out there and managed to get a hold of him. He had held on to the light in the middle of the intersection.

"He was out in the water with them for a good hour or so."

It is not known where the boy was taken to after that.

The woman, 42, and her son, 13, had been clinging to a tree at the same intersection when they were washed away just after 2pm, The Chronicle in Toowoomba reported.

Bligh described an "eight-metre wall of water" flowing down the Lockyer Valley from Toowoomba. "This is without doubt our darkest hour in the past fortnight," she said.

'LIKE A CYCLONE HAD GONE THROUGH'

Nine Network reporter Cameron Price is at Grantham, 100 kilometres west of Brisbane, and told the ABC the town had been devastated.

"The town is like a cyclone has gone through it," he said. "There are houses that are completely collapsed, cars that are halfway up trees, homes a kilometre away from where they were.

"The terrible news from here is that they took the bodies of two small children from the waters, they are the fifth and sixth victims here so far."

Toowoomba was unprepared for this event. The city of about 121,000 people sits about 700 metres above sea level on the crest of the Great Dividing Range.

Until last year it was gripped by a decade-long drought and was forced in 2009, when dam levels dropped to an all-time low of 7.7 per cent, to pump water from the Great Artesian Basin.

"Relatives and friends seeking information about people in these areas should phone 1300 993 191 to make inquiries and register their details," Queensland police said in a statement today.

Dramatic footage of rising flood waters:

- Brisbane Times with AAP

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