January 12, 2011 in Nation/World

Floods hit Brisbane, threaten thousands

John Pye And Kristin Gelineau Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Local residents move to higher ground as the Brisbane River burst its banks to cause widespread flooding in Brisbane, Australia, on Tuesday.
(Full-size photo)

BRISBANE, Australia – Deadly floodwaters that have cut a swath across northeastern Australia flowed onto the streets of the nation’s third-largest city today, forcing people to flee suburbs and skyscrapers as rescuers elsewhere searched for 67 people still missing.

Almost 20,000 homes in Brisbane were expected to be swamped in the city of about 2 million by the time the Brisbane River reaches its expected peak Thursday, Mayor Campbell Newman said. The figures were constantly being revised as the threat became clearer – and it was getting consistently worse.

At least 22 people have died in Australia’s northeastern state of Queensland since drenching rains that began in November sent swollen rivers spilling over their banks, inundating an area larger than France and Germany combined.

The crisis escalated when a violent storm sent a 26-foot, fast-moving torrent – described as an “inland instant tsunami” – crashing through the city of Toowoomba and smaller towns to the west of Brisbane on Monday. Twelve people were killed in that flash flood, and 67 remain missing.

Emergency sirens wailed throughout Brisbane today. Boats torn from their moorings floated down the rising river along with massive amounts of debris. A popular waterside restaurant’s pontoon was swept away by the current and floated downstream. Some streets and riverside parks were covered with water.

Two evacuation centers have been established in the city and 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.

The Brisbane River broke its banks on Tuesday and was continuing its rise today – partly controlled by a huge dam upstream that has had its floodgates opened because it is brimming after weeks of rain across the state.

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