Floods turn city into ghost town

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An entire shopping mall is submerged outside Ipswich, west of Brisbane (AP)

Residents of Australia’s third-largest city have woken to find their community submerged in muddy water after flood waters pouring through streets reached their crest.

Thousands of homes were filled with water, and many areas were without electricity.

In one spot of bright news, the swollen Brisbane River’s peak was about three feet (one metre) lower than predicted, at a depth slightly below that of 1974 floods that swept the city.

But waters in some areas had reached the tops of roofs, shut down roads and power and devastated entire neighbourhoods. The city council said an estimated 15,000 homes had been inundated.

“This is still a very dangerous situation and we have thousands of people who are waking this morning to the total devastation of either their homes, businesses – for some people it’s both,” Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio. “We are facing a reconstruction effort of post-war proportions,” she said.

The flooding, which has killed 23 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. Highways and rail lines have been washed away in the disaster, which is shaping up to be Australia’s costliest ever.

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 sweep away cars, road signs and people. Twelve died in that flood alone.

In Brisbane, roads were flooded, railway lines were cut and sewage began spilling into the floodwaters. People moved about in kayaks, rowing boats and even on surfboards. Boats torn from their moorings floated down an engorged river. Brisbane’s office buildings stood empty, with the normally bustling central business district transformed into a watery ghost town.

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.

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