Floodwaters washing through Australia’s third-largest city crested just shy of levels residents had feared most but high enough to submerge entire neighbourhoods and cause damage one official likened to the aftermath of war.
One man died in Brisbane after being sucked into a storm drain by the muddy waters, Queensland state premier Anna Bligh said.
Thousands of homes were swamped, and officials told residents it will be days before many of them can return to their houses. Others were told their homes will never be habitable again.
In one spot of bright news, the swollen Brisbane River’s peak was about three feet lower than predicted, at a depth slightly below that of 1974 floods that swept the city. The river has begun to recede, but 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.
“Queensland is reeling this morning from the worst natural disaster in our history and possibly in the history of our nation,” 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.”
The flooding, which has killed 26 people since late November, has submerged dozens of towns – some three times – and left an area the size of Germany and France combined under water.
At least 74 people are 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. Thirteen died in that flood alone, with police finding the latest body in a field.
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. By Wednesday, Jordan’s name was among the top 10 most used terms on Twitter, as a wave of tweets hailed him as a “true hero” of the Queensland floods.