Australians warned not to return to flooded homes

Updated - November 28, 2021 09:32 pm IST

Published - January 13, 2011 02:51 pm IST - BRISBANE, Australia

An unidentified woman climbs onto a wall to see the damage in her property after flood water reached the area in New Farm, Brisbane,  on Thursday. Photol: AP.

An unidentified woman climbs onto a wall to see the damage in her property after flood water reached the area in New Farm, Brisbane, on Thursday. Photol: AP.

Deadly floodwaters began to recede on Thursday from the devastated streets of Australia’s third-largest city, while officials warned it could be days before people can return to thousands of inundated homes and businesses - and many may be unsalvageable.

One man died in Brisbane after being sucked into a storm drain by the muddy waters, said Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh. The discovery, plus two other bodies found on Thursday, brought the death toll to 25 since late November.

“Queensland is reeling this morning from the worst natural disaster in our history and possibly in the history of our nation,” a visibly emotional Ms. Bligh told reporters. “We’ve seen three-quarters of our state having experienced the devastation of raging floodwaters and we now face a reconstruction task of post-war proportions.”

Officials told evacuated Brisbane residents it would be days before they could return to some of the 30,000 inundated homes and businesses, though no bans were in place preventing people from surveying the damage. Others were told their homes will never be habitable again.

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 61 people are still missing, and the death toll is expected to rise. Many of those unaccounted for disappeared from around Toowoomba, a city west of Brisbane that saw massive flash floods on Monday sweep away cars, road signs and people. Fourteen died in that flood alone, with police finding the bodies of two of those people on Thursday. Deputy Police Commissioner Ian Stewart warned that the number was likely to rise as search and rescue teams accessed more devastated areas on Thursday.

“We’ve got to brace ourselves for more bad news,” Mr. Stewart said.

In one spot of bright news, the swollen Brisbane River’s peak was about three feet (one meter) lower than predicted, at a depth slightly below that of 1974 floods that swept the city. The river had already begun to recede by Thursday afternoon, though it was expected to stay high for several days.

Waters in some areas had reached the tops of roofs, shut down roads and power, and devastated entire neighbourhoods. Mayor Campbell Newman said 11,900 homes and 2,500 businesses had been completely inundated, with another 14,700 houses and 2,500 businesses at least partially covered in water.

About 103,000 homes were without power across Queensland on Thursday because electricity was switched off to prevent electrocutions and damage to electrical systems.

In Brisbane, roads were flooded, railway lines were cut and sewage began spilling into the floodwaters. People moved about in kayaks, rowboats and even on surfboards. Boats torn from their moorings floated down an engorged river. Brisbane’s office buildings stood empty with the normally bustling central business district transformed into a watery ghost town.

A 300-yard stretch of a pedestrian boardwalk weighing 300 tons broke loose and drifted downstream before two tug boats were able to steer it away from bridges.

About 200 police officers patrolled flooded streets around the clock. Three men were charged with looting after police said they tried to steal dinghies from the swollen river.

Despite the devastation, many remained thankful the river had spared them the worst of its fury.

Lisa Sully, who lives in the nearby suburb of Sherwood, did have some water in her home - but she still felt lucky on Thursday.

“I can handle this,” she said. “Mentally, I was prepared for worse.”

The death toll has shocked Australians, no strangers to deadly natural disasters such as the wildfires that killed 173 in a single day two years ago.

One tale has particularly transfixed the country- a 13-year-old boy caught in the flood who told strangers to save his 10-year-old brother first and died as a result.

Jordan and Blake Rice were in the car with their mother, Donna, when a wall of water pummelled Toowoomba on Monday. After the torrent of water knocked one rescuer over, another man managed to reach the car, The Australian newspaper reported. At Jordan’s insistence, he pulled Blake out first, according to a third brother, Kyle.

“Courage kicked in, and he would rather his little brother would live,” the 16-year-old told the newspaper. Mr. Jordan and his mother were washed away before the men were able to get back to them.

On Twitter, as a wave of tweets hailed him as a “true hero” of the Queensland floods.

As the immediate crisis began to ease in Brisbane, focus returned to the search for the dozens still missing in the devastated Lockyer Valley, the site of Monday’s deadly flash flood.

Twisted wreckage littered the ground in the Lockyer Valley town of Postmans Ridge on Thursday. Tractor-trailers were snapped in half, boats were crushed and the body of a dead horse lay wedged between a downed tree and the sodden ground. Soldiers picked through the flattened vegetation, searching for bodies.

Stewart said search and rescue teams scouring the region faced a tough task.

“The problem we have is that the people have been washed out of their homes and some of the homes are actually destroyed, like bombs have gone off there,” Mr. Stewart told Nine Network. “It’s a war scene in the Lockyer Valley today.”

Though the full extent of the damage won’t be known until the water is gone, even before Brisbane was threatened, Ms. Bligh estimated a cleanup and rebuilding to total about $5 billion.

Add to that, the damage to economy- Queensland’s coal industry has virtually shut down, costing millions in deferred exports and sending global prices higher. Vegetables, fruit and sugarcane crops in the rich agricultural region have been wiped out, and prices are due to skyrocket as a result.

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