A volunteer army is wading through stinking mud and drenched homes in a massive clean-up operation as floodwaters receded in Australia’s third-largest city.
Thousands of residents joined 600 military personnel in what was dubbed “Salvation Saturday” to shovel up the mud and clean houses and businesses inundated by the Brisbane River earlier this week, another casualty of weeks of flooding across the state of Queensland.
“Everybody rolls up their sleeves in this town,” said Brisbane Mayor Campbell Newman, but cautioned that the complete clean-up of the city would take months, and reconstruction could take up to two years.
The floodwaters that swamped entire neighbourhoods in Brisbane, the state capital, have left behind a thick layer of putrid sludge that covered streets and thousands of houses. More than 30,000 homes and businesses were flooded with muddy water and officials warned some residents their homes were so badly damaged they will need to be destroyed.
Weeks of relentless rains and flooding across Australia’s northeast has left 26 people dead. An additional 20 people are still missing. Most of the people unaccounted for are from the Lockyer Valley and the nearby city of Toowoomba, where a sudden downpour on Monday caused a flash flood likened to an inland tsunami.
The overflowing rivers and continued rain in some parts of Australia have led to flood alerts in four other states.
The multibillion dollar toll includes losses from flooded mines and formally fertile farmland, now a boggy mess of rotting vegetation.
Mining companies have announced that they will not be able to meet contracts for coal, Australia’s biggest export, due to the flooding in Queensland state while farmers there are counting crop losses that could push up world food prices.
The flooding is a particularly cruel blow to farmers, many of whom had hoped for bumper crops after much of Australia emerged from its worst drought in more than a century.