Worst disaster on record for Queensland

'Slight reprieve' for flooded city

Last updated 05:00 12/01/2011

Flooding threatens Brisbane

Australia PM: 'Dark days ahead'

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The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has revised down its prediction for the surging Brisbane River, with water levels now expected to peak at 5.2 metres this morning.


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


The new prediction is almost a metre above the 4.3m level the river reached yesterday afternoon, but is just below that of the devastating 1974 flood. On Tuesday forecasters warned of a potential peak of more than 5.5 metres.

Thousands of homes will be inundated when the high tide peaks at 4am (7pm, NZT) today.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh tonight described the revised forecast as a "slight reprieve" but said the city would still be devastated by the flood peak.

At least 700 people will spend tonight in flood evacuation centres as the rising water heads towards its peak, expected early tomorrow morning.

And Lord Mayor Campbell Newman said many more would have self-evacuated to stay with friends and family.

‘‘I do recommend people do [that] because they will be more comfortable,’’ he told Sky News.

FLOOD DEATH TOLL AT 12

Two people who were feared dead have been rescued after being swept away in raging flood waters.

Meanwhile, the death toll in the Queensland floods has risen to 12 after the bodies of two men were found yesterday afternoon.

Authorities estimate it will take two years and billions of dollars to repair the damage from the Australian state's worst disaster in a century.

The number of people missing in the Toowoomba-Lockyer Valley area has been revised down to 51, with Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson saying there were still grave concerns for nine people.

But police had been heartened by the news two people in the same area who were feared dead had been rescued after being swept away in raging flood waters.

"Both of those people were literally swept away by flood waters and there was every reason to believe that they had lost their lives," Atkinson said.

"Its wonderful news and really one can only describe it as a miracle based on the circumstances of which they went missing." He said details of the two separate incidents would be released later today.

The grim news of the latest deaths was announced by Bligh after the bodies of two men were discovered in the Lockyer Valley this afternoon, one at a home at Grantham and another in a creek at Lyons Bridge.

"It's tragic news that we've had another two deaths... I don't believe that's the end of that kind of news," Bligh said.

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"To the families of the two men whose bodies were found this afternoon, the thoughts of all Queenslanders are with you."

Deputy Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said recovery teams were searching buildings "completely destroyed" by floodwaters, and combing trees, creeks and cars for bodies.

"Our hope is that we actually might find some survivors but the chances of that are quite remote," he said.

'I SAW ARMS, HANDS, GREY HAIR, AND THAT WAS IT'

A distraught Grantham local said he thought bodies he saw being thrown about in turbulent floodwaters were trying to swim, until he realised they were dead.

"You saw arms, hands, grey hair, and that was it, by the time you knelt down you realise they're not swimming, they are already gone," Martin Warburton told the Seven network.

"I can't describe it, I just can't describe it."

The married father of a young son spent 12 terrifying hours on a roof awaiting rescue on Tuesday night.

"After going through that and seeing bodies float past, thinking that they are trying to swim, you know, because the water was that turbulent it was just throwing them around," he said.

"Then you bend down to try and grab them and then you realise that they are already gone."

Warburton said he had seen two bodies float past after he took refuge on his roof, but he couldn't say if he knew them.

"It was basically just get out, just leave everything..." he said.

"At first I thought I was all right. Then you started seeing houses get ripped off their stumps and washed down the road...

"Then they were slamming into the side of the building and the building was starting to shake."

NUMBERS GROW AT EVACUATION CENTRES

The residents of Chinchilla now face a worse flood than the one they endured last month, with the water forecast to peak at 7.8 metres. They are now facing the prospect of evacuating from homes to which they had only just returned.

Bligh said 3585 people have been forced to take shelter in 57 evacuation centres across the state as floodwaters continue to rise.

Thousands more have fled their homes and are sheltering with family and friends on higher ground.

"This [3585] is an extraordinary number of people," Ms Bligh told reporters in Brisbane.

"These are the people who have formally registered [and] there will be thousands more who have gone to relatives and friends."

Of those in evacuation centres about 1500 are in Ipswich and 600 are in Brisbane.

"We expect that number to grow as they rivers start to swell and peak this afternoon and overnight," Bligh said.

TEMPORARY MORGUES

Temporary morgues are being set up west of Brisbane as health authorities prepare for the arrival of those killed.

It is understood the Australian Defence Force is working at Toowoomba Hospital to set up a morgue for at least 20 bodies resulting from Monday's flash flooding.

Local sources have told Fairfax Media that a number of bodies have been found in the Toowoomba area but have not yet been retrieved.

A Queensland Health spokeswoman said hospitals would have the facilities "to cope with what we need to cope with''.

Meanwhile, as the flooding continues, residents in Brisbane's low-lying suburbs have been told to evacuate now, rather than wait until the situation becomes too dire.

"We don't need people struggling at midnight; we need them to start now, the latest by this afternoon, to be either out of their homes or close to it," Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said. 

FATHER MISSING

Bligh has confirmed one member of a family spotted stranded on their four-wheel-drive in floodwaters around Toowoomba is still missing.

Dramatic images shot from a 7 News television helicopter on Monday showed a mother, father and young son sitting on the roof of their car near Toowoomba waiting for rescue.

The harrowing footage shows floodwaters swirling around the family.

Bligh said her office had received many calls about the welfare of the family after the footage was aired on several television stations.

At a press conference today she confirmed that both the mother and son were rescued, but tragically, the father was still missing.

"We are pleased to confirm the mother and the child have been found alive, but we are still searching for the father in this case," she said.

STATE PREMIER'S WARNING 

As Queensland mounts a massive search and rescue effort, Bligh says the devastating floods will be the worst on record.

Addressing the state in a live broadcast this afternoon, Bligh - flanked by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard - said the state was facing "the worst natural disaster in our history".

Earlier, Bligh had warned people to expect a "gruesome day for rescue workers and a heartbreaking day for families" as a break in the weather allowed rescue workers to search for the missing. "I think we will all be shocked by what they will find."

She said in this afternoon's address that the state coroner and grief councillors had moved into the badly hit Lockyer Valley area to support a "major search and rescue effort". 

Bligh has told the state to prepare for yet more tragedy, saying there were "grave" fears for 15 people in addition to those already confirmed dead.

PRIME MINISTER'S RESPONSE

Gillard arrived in Brisbane to inspect the devastation and said she was deeply concerned about the impact of the flood on jobs and livelihoods.

''I have been shocked. I think we've all been shocked by the images of that wall of water just wreaking such devastation. The dimensions of it are truly mind-boggling,'' Gillard said.

''We will have to work through the long-term economic impacts for Queensland, and of course the huge infrastructure re-building task to come as floodwaters subside.''

Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser said he expected the flood damage bill to be in the billions of dollars.

DRAMATIC WARNING

Bligh warned residents that homes will be completely submerged after the Brisbane River broke its banks this morning.

The banks of the Brisbane River have already broken at Yeronga and further breaks are expected today and tomorrow.

She said the Yeronga situation was a sign "of things to come" in the days ahead, with the Brisbane River expected to peak at 4.5m today and eclipse 1974 levels at 5.5m tomorrow.

More than 40,000 people are expected to be affected in Brisbane by rising flood waters, with the city's Lord Mayor expecting 19,700 homes to have their entire property flooded. More than 3500 commercial properties and 2000 streets across the city will be under water.

More than 50,000 Brisbane homes and businesses have been without power today and thousands of people face evacuation.

Energex advised that power to parts of the CBD was cut from 8.30am (AEST), closing many workplaces. The homes and businesses were blacked out for safety reasons, until it was safe for Energex to reconnect them.

With a number of inner-city suburbs likely to be inundated, police are advising against all non-essential travel.

Queensland Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said Brisbane port would be closed "to all but emergency situations".

IPSWICH INUNDATED

The rising Bremer River inundated several homes and businesses in Ipswich, with evacuation centres overflowing, Mayor Paul Pisasale said.

The mayor was furious after hearing of several reports of looting taking place in flood-affected areas.

"If I find anybody looting in our city they will be used as flood markers," he said.

The Coles supermarket was inundated to a depth of 2.44 metres, with just the awning and store logo showing above the floodwaters which continue to rise.

The Bremer River had risen to 18.5 metres at 5am this morning.

The surging watercourse was expected to peak at 21.5 metres at 11am, which is half a metre higher than the devastating 1974 floods.

Ms Bligh said the situation was escalating rapidly.

"That's five metres the river is expected to rise in five hours ... that's how fast this is rising," she told Channel Nine.

DAMS SAFE

SEQ Water said flood levels were falling slowly at the Wivenhoe Dam, west of Brisbane, as it makes controlled releases of water into the Brisbane River.

But the water level behind the dam was at 190 per cent at 10pm yesterday, including its extra flood mitigation capacity.

The Somerset Dam was holding 183 per cent.

All South East Queensland Water dams were reportedly safe and stable overnight.

NSW

Major flooding is also expected across the border in NSW today. With the Clarence River expected to peak at seven metres, evacuations are underway in Grafton.

VICTORIA

Firefighters have pulled people from three cars trapped under an inner Melbourne rail bridge after a pre-dawn deluge hit the city.

Metropolitan Fire Brigade spokesman Trevor Woodward said the motorists were driving on Dudley Street, West Melbourne, near Wurrundjeri Way, when their vehicles were caught in the flash flood.

He said the water was above window height with people in one of the cars unable to escape.

Ambulance Victoria attended the scene but there were no reports of injuries.

The incident follows a night of torrential rain across parts of the state.

Intense storms washed across the north and mid-western regions of Victoria, dumping up to 130mm in some areas.

DRAMATIC TOOWOOMBA FOOTAGE

 

- Brisbane Times and AAP

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