Parts of Australia’s third-largest city have reopened as deadly floodwaters that had swamped entire neighbourhoods receded, revealing streets and thousands of homes covered in a thick layer of putrid sludge.
Dustbin lorries moved through Brisbane’s muddy streets and some residents dragged ruined furniture out of their homes as the massive clean-up began following one of Australia’s worst natural disasters.
In towns upstream of Brisbane, soldiers picked their way through debris looking for more victims. Weeks of flooding across Australia’s north east have caused 25 deaths, and 55 people were 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.”
The muddy waters from the Brisbane River swamped 30,000 homes and businesses in Brisbane.
One man drowned on Thursday when he was sucked into a storm drain as he tried to check on his father’s home in an inundated neighbourhood of the city. Officials expected to find more bodies further upstream as they finally got access to hamlets struck by flash flooding on Monday.
Most of the people still unaccounted for are from around Toowoomba, a city west of Brisbane in the Lockyer Valley where a sudden downpour caused a flash flood likened to an inland tsunami.
Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said that officials may never be able to find everyone swept away by the raging torrent. “We would certainly hope they would find them all,” Mr Atkinson said. “Regrettably, we could not exclude completely the possibility that some may never be found.”
Ms Bligh warned the clean-up task would be of “post-war proportions”.
Prime minister Julia Gillard doubled the number of defence personnel involved in the recovery effort to 1,200, the largest deployment for a natural disaster since Cyclone Tracy destroyed the northern city of Darwin in 1974.