Some Australian communities remain isolated by floodwaters and others braced for a new river peak as the nation’s third-largest city struggled to clean up the putrid sludge left behind by the receding Brisbane River.
More than 12,000 rubber-gloved volunteers hauled sodden debris from soaked homes, shovelled sludge and swept and mopped muddy floors in some of the 30,000 homes and businesses that were flooded in Brisbane.
Officials have said the complete clean-up of the Queensland state capital would take months, and reconstruction up to two years.
The floods have caused 26 deaths in Australia’s northeast since late November, and 14 others are missing, most of them from a flash flood that hit towns west of Brisbane on Monday.
In the town of Grantham, described as the epicentre of the flash flood, 70% of the town remains cordoned off while searchers look for the bodies of the missing.
The wall of water that swept through the town left behind dozens of smashed cars wedged in trees or in fields, houses slipped off their foundations and masses of muddied belongings piling up as debris in the streets.
The engorged rivers that flooded Queensland towns have now swelled south into other states. In New South Wales, nearly 7,000 people have been isolated by floodwaters that overflowed highways and emergency services helicopters were air-dropping food and other supplies to residents.
In northern Victoria, a dozen small communities were sandbagging amid fears of high-peaking rivers and 3,000 people have evacuated.
Mining companies said they will not be able to meet contracts for coal, Australia’s biggest export, while Queensland farmers’ crop losses could push up world food prices.
Even more frightening for farmers is the Bureau of Meteorology’s prediction that rain could last until March due to the cool conditions in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean associated with the current La Nina – a weather system known for producing heavy rains.