Flash floods swept through an Australian city on Monday, killing at least four people, trapping others in cars and leaving some clinging to trees as relentless rains brought more misery to a region battling its worst flooding in decades.
The raging torrent of muddy water picked up cars and tossed them like toys, carried away furniture as it washed through stores and prompted scores of emergency calls as it swamped Toowoomba, a city of about 90,000 in Queensland state in the northeast.
At least four people were killed, including one female pedestrian, Queensland Fire and Rescue Service Assistant Commissioner Tom Dawson said.
Officials urged residents of low-lying communities downstream from Toowoomba to immediately move to higher ground as more flash floods were possible.
Video taken in Toowoomba shows a man clutching a tree as the gushing water sweeps down a street, pushing vehicles off the road, into each other and flinging one van into trees.
One small sedan was tossed about in murky brown rapids.
“We’ve had multiple calls requesting urgent assistance from people caught in vehicles, caught on the street, caught in flood ways,” said Queensland Deputy Police Commissioner Ian Stewart, adding the flash flood happened with no warning.
It was the latest drama for water-weary Queensland, which has been devastated by weeks of pounding rains and overflowing rivers. Twelve people have died since late November and about 200,000 have been affected by the floods.
Roads and rail lines have been cut, Queensland’s big-exporting coal mine industry has virtually shut down, and cattle ranching and farming across a large part of the state are at a standstill.
Dawson said his group recorded 90 emergency calls from people in conditions that were considered the be life-threatening. Several people were rescued, and officials were still struggling to respond to all of the calls.
The waters disappeared almost as fast as they arrived, leaving debris strewn throughout downtown Toowoomba and -- in one place -- cars piled atop one another.
Video from Toowoomba showed the rescue of one man hanging onto a tree amid the churning waters. Others were stranded on the roof of a building, and on the roof of a submerged car.
Toowoomba resident Sarah Gordon said she saw at least 15 cars washed away by the floodwaters.
“A lot of cars got swept down the road ... right down the creek,” she said. “A few people were trapped, but they luckily got out.”