Parts of Australia’s third-largest city reopened on Friday as deadly floodwaters that had swamped entire neighbourhoods receded, revealing streets and homes covered in a thick layer of putrid sludge.
Garbage trucks moved through Brisbane’s muddy streets and some residents dragged ruined furniture out of their homes as the massive cleanup began following one of Australia’s worst natural disasters.
In towns upstream of Brisbane, soldiers picked their way through debris looking for more victims. The death toll after weeks of flooding across Australia’s northeast stood at 25 and 55 people was still missing.
“There is a lot of heartache and grief as people start to see for the first time what has happened to their homes and their streets,” Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh said. “In some cases, we have street after street after street where every home has been inundated to the roof level, affecting thousands.”
Thirty-thousand homes and businesses in Brisbane were swamped by the muddy waters following months of driving rain that fell across Australia’s tropical northeast. One man drowned Thursday when he was sucked into a storm drain as he tried to check on his father’s home in an inundated Brisbane neighbourhood. Officials said they expect to find more bodies farther upstream as they finally got access to hamlets struck by flash flooding on Monday.
Dramatic video captured the power of the roaring water- A yacht ripped from its moorings rocketed down the river and suddenly sank after hitting a submerged object. Two men on board were thrown into the water and rescued by people on board a small aluminium boat nearby.
Bligh warned the cleanup task would be of “post-war proportions.” Water was still high in some areas Friday, but had pulled back dramatically in others to reveal mountains of muddy wreckage. Officials asked the Australian Defence Force for a minesweeper to search the mouth of the river for sunken debris.
Health officials warned people to throw out anything that had touched the contaminated waters. Throughout the city, a sickening odour of spoiled food and the river’s muck wafted through the air
“What the city has to prepare itself for ... is the unbearable stench,” Bligh said. “The smell of it is just unspeakable.”
The flooding across Queensland has submerged dozens of towns -- some three times -- and left an area the size of Germany and France combined under water. Highways and rail lines have been washed away in the disaster, which is shaping up to be Australia’s costliest. Damage estimates were already at $5 billion before the floodwaters swamped Brisbane.
At least 55 people are still missing, most of them from around Toowoomba, a city west of Brisbane in the Lockyer Valley that saw massive flash floods Monday. Search and rescue teams were still scouring the valley Friday for more bodies, and police warned that the death toll was likely to rise.
Police officers were patrolling Brisbane’s flooded streets around the clock. Six people have been charged with looting.