Deadly floodwaters have finally begun to recede from the devastated streets of Brisbane, while officials warned it could be days before people can return to thousands of homes and businesses damaged in the disaster.
One man died in the city after being sucked into a storm drain by the muddy waters, said Queensland state premier Anna Bligh. The discovery, plus two other bodies found, brought the death toll from the floods to 25 since late November.
“Queensland is reeling this morning from the worst natural disaster in our history and possibly in the history of our nation,” Ms Bligh said. “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.”
Officials told residents who had been evacuated from Australia’s third-largest city that it would be days before they could return to some of the 30,000 inundated homes and businesses – though many of them will never be habitable again.
The flooding across Queensland has submerged dozens of towns – some three times – and left an area the size of Germany and France combined under water. Roads and rail lines have been washed away in the disaster, which is shaping up to be Australia’s costliest. Damage estimates were already at £3.1bn before the floods swamped Brisbane.
At least 61 people are still 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, with 14 people killed in that flood alone.
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.
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.
In Brisbane, roads were flooded, railway lines were cut and sewage began spilling into the floodwaters. About 103,000 homes were without power across Queensland because electricity was switched off to prevent electrocutions and damage to electrical systems.
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. A rescuer managed to reach the car but at Jordan’s insistence, he pulled Blake out first, according to a third brother, Kyle.