The deadly flood that has cut a swath across northeast Australia has seeped onto the streets of the nation’s third-largest city, forcing people to flee both suburbs and skyscrapers.
City Mayor Campbell Newman said almost 20,000 homes in low-lying areas of the city of about two million were expected to be swamped by the time the river system it is built on reaches its expected peak on Thursday.
The figures were constantly being revised as the threat became clearer – and it was getting consistently worse.
Meanwhile, Queensland state Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said the confirmed death toll from Monday’s flash flooding west of Brisbane – described as “an inland instant tsunami” – remained at 10, with the number of people missing dropping to 67 from more than 90.
Helicopters and other emergency vehicles were moving into the worst-hit towns, and Queensland Premier Anna Bligh warned that the death toll would likely rise.
The Brisbane River broke its banks on Tuesday and is continuing its rise – partly controlled by a huge dam upstream that has had its floodgates opened because it is brimming after weeks of rain across the state.
Boats torn from their moorings were floating down the swollen river, and a popular waterside restaurant was expected to sink, Ms Bligh told reporters. Some streets and riverside parks were covered with water, though no major flooding was reported early on Wednesday.
Two evacuation centres have been established in the city and Mr Newman said up to 6,500 were expected to use them in coming days. Officials have urged anyone in a growing list of low-lying suburbs to prepare their homes, then get out to stay with friends and family and keep off the streets.
“This incident is not a tourist event – this is a deeply serious natural disaster,” Ms Bligh said. “Stay in your homes. Do not travel unless it is absolutely necessary.”
Relentless rains that have been pounding the region cleared on Wednesday, but Ms Bligh said while the break in the weather would help rescue officials, it would have no impact on the flood threat to Brisbane. “We can take no comfort from that blue sky,” she said. “The water and the rain have already done their damage – they are in the catchment, and they are on their way down the river system.”