Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Death toll in Australia floods reaches 22 as water in Brisbane continues to 'rise and swallow up' the city


Diversion: The Ipswich motorway, west of Brisbane, is cut off by flood water. At least 22 people have so far died in the Queensland floods

Death toll of 22 already worse than 1974 tragedy

Disaster could cut 1 per cent off GDP

Queensland Premier says situation is 'deeply serious'

Deadly floodwaters that have cut a swath across northeast Australia shut down the centre of Brisbane, the nation's third-largest city, today, sending thousands fleeing from their homes.

Unconfirmed reports say that at least 22 people have so far died in Australia's north-eastern state of Queensland and a further 67 remain missing from tsunami-like flash floods that tore through townships west of the city this week.

Almost 20,000 homes in Brisbane were expected to be swamped in the city of about two million by the time the Brisbane River reaches its expected peak tomorrow, Mayor Campbell Newman said.

Brisbane residents today pushed food-laden shopping carts through drowned streets, others waded in shoulder-high water to rescue possessions, while boats and pontoons were ripped from moorings in the Brisbane River and smashed into bridges as the muddy brown tide gathered strength.

At flooded intersections people paddled surfboards through floodwaters, balancing their possessions on the deck of the boards, while boats ferried evacuees to dry ground.

'I am feeling a sense of horror and awe at the power of the river. Sadly in coming hours we will see bits of people's homes float down the river,' Brisbane Mayor Campbell Newman said, warning the torrent could take three to four days to subside.

Submerged: Homes near Ipswich are swallowed up by rising water. The town's mayor described the scenes as 'heartbreaking'

Rescue crews took advantage of some rare sunshine to look for the dozens still missing, feared dead in the flood waters.

'We can take no comfort from that blue sky,' Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh told reporters.

'The water and the rain have already done their damage. This is a deeply serious natural disaster.'

The peak will arrive within the next few hours in Ipswich, a satellite town to the west.

'The water is rising and swallowing up the city. It's really heartbreaking,' said Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale.

Brisbane Street in Ipswich city centre has been partially submerged with deep flood water, meaning local residents have to use boats to get about

Businesses in the Brisbane suburb of Milton sit under several feet of water after the devastating floods

The trouble started after drenching rains in Australia's north-eastern state of Queensland that began in November sent swollen rivers spilling over their banks, inundating an area larger than France and Germany combined.

The crisis escalated when a violent storm sent a 26-foot, fast-moving torrent - described as an 'inland instant tsunami' - crashing through the city of Toowoomba and smaller towns to the west of Brisbane on Monday.

Some 200,000 people have already been affected by the disaster, which has caused billions of pounds of damage and is already worse than the floods that hit Brisbane in 1974, killing 14.

The biggest floods in a century have crippled the coking coal industry in the mining state, destroying infrastructure, putting a brake on the economy and sending the local currency to four-week lows.

A man rescues a kangaroo that was helplessly drifting in floodwaters near the bridge at One Mile in Ipswich

Police in the Brisbane inner city suburb of West End wade through water as they check for stranded residents

Teenagers make their way through a flooded street in the Brisbane suburb of Breakfast Creek. Thousands of residents of Australia's third-largest city have been evacuated from their homes

The overall economic impact will be devastating, with one central bank board member saying today that the disaster could cut 1 per cent off growth - equal to almost $13 billion, double the previous highest estimate.

The Australian dollar sank to a fresh four-week low of $0.9803 on the comments from Warwick McKibbin, an academic and a member of the central bank's policy-making board.

Treasurer Wayne Swan in November forecast GDP growth of 3.25 per cent in fiscal 2010-11, up from a 3.0 per cent projection, but said spending would be cut to ensure a surplus of A$3.1 billion or 0.2 per cent of GDP in 2012/13.

Food prices are surging around the country as the floods ruin Queensland crops and distribution networks. Prices for tomatoes have leapt about 200 per cent in two weeks, while beef is up 11 per cent and wheat has risen 4 per cent in four months.

Watch this space: Floodwaters stretch towards the skyscrapers of Brisbane, seen in the distance, from the outer south-western suburbs

Breaking point: The swollen Brisbane River, which is struggling to contain excess water released from local dams, is ready to burst its banks onto the central business district

Some of the scenes today in Brisbane were surreal, with early-morning joggers trying to carry on as normal, even though parts of their routes were underwater. Others were distraught.

'This is my whole life, everything is gone. I never thought it would get this bad,' said Kim Hung, manager of the Salt 'n' Pepper catering business, as two friends floated a coffee machine toward higher ground.

Raw sewage began spilling into the river and creeks, prompting authorities to warn of a heightened disease risk as damaged water treatment works polluted the floodwaters.

It has been estimated that up to 45,000 people will be affected by the floods. The military is running relief flights with helicopters and C-130 transports.

Shelter: Flood victims evacuated to the RNA Showgrounds lie down on makeshift beds. Evacuations are underway in several towns and suburbs in and around Brisbane

Dams built to protect Brisbane and outlying towns were spilling floodwaters into swollen rivers. The Port of Brisbane was closed, shutting down Australia's third-busiest container port and a 5-million-tonnes-a-year coal-loading facility.

Australia is the world's biggest exporter of coking coal, which is used in steel manufacturing and accounts for more than half of global exports, and is also the second-biggest exporter of thermal coal used for power generation.

Power company Energex shut power to some low-lying areas of Brisbane, including parts of the financial district, for fear that live power lines could electrify floodwaters. Some 78,000 homes in the southeast of Queensland were without electricity.

Australian Floods 2011 - Queensland is Crying

The Australia Floods - Toowoomba Flood

Brisbane Flooding: 20,000 Homes At Risk

source: dailymail [endtext]

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