Eight People Dead, More Missing as Australian Floods Head Toward Brisbane

The death toll from the latest downpour to hit the Australian state of Queensland is set to climb from eight as rising waters rush toward the coastal city of Brisbane, where evacuations are now underway.

Four children died as a wall of brown water cascaded through the town of Toowoomba without warning yesterday, slamming cars against bridges. With about 72 people still missing, the number of dead may rise “dramatically,” Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said at a news conference today.

“In all honesty we hold very grave concerns for a number of these people,” Bligh said. “We are anxiously worrying that we will see this toll rise.”

Queensland has been inundated for more than two weeks after downpours lashed Australia’s northeast. The rains, which have hit the state’s farming and coal industries, may have affected as many as 200,000 people, authorities say.

The latest flash floods were triggered after heavy rains fell on already sodden ground. Bligh said some residents are still stranded as rivers rush towards the coast. The Bureau of Meteorology has issued flood warnings for the Brisbane River.

Residents in low-lying areas of two north Brisbane suburbs, Strathpine and Caboolture, were ordered by police to leave immediately. Water levels may surpass those of the 1974 floods, Queensland Police said on its website. Some buildings in the city’s central business district are being evacuated as the river creeps higher, the Brisbane Times reported.

Daunting Scale

Television footage showed people trapped in vehicles in Toowoomba while others hung to lamp posts and trees as rescue services struggled to reach them. Emergency services officers staged 43 rooftop rescues overnight before bad weather grounded helicopters, Bligh said.

The floods, the state’s worst in 50 years, have affected about a million square kilometers, an area the size of France and Germany. Repairing the damage may cost more than A$5 billion ($4.94 billion), Bligh has said.

“The sheer scale of this operation is daunting,” Queensland Deputy Commissioner Ian Stewart said at today’s press conference.

Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson yesterday described the flood that hit Toowoomba as an “inland instant tsunami.” The torrent swept cars down streets in the town of 90,000 people, which is about 127 kilometers (79 miles) west of Brisbane.

River levels in that city, the state’s capital, will probably peak tomorrow or the next day, Bligh said. Without the Wivenhoe Dam, which is holding out, there would be a ”very significant” flood in Brisbane, she said.

Rains Forecast

“There’s no need to panic in Brisbane,” the premier said. “This is a changing situation but one that is being managed.”

Rescue efforts have been hampered as fog grounded helicopters, leaving residents stranded on rooftops overnight. The downpour is forecast to continue today.

The Lockyer Creek in the southeast of the state was at a record level of 18.92 meters at Gatton last night before the recording station failed, the Bureau of Meteorology said on its website today. The previous record was 16.33 meters in February 1893.

The towns of Dalby and Chinchilla are being evacuated as flood waters rise, Bligh said yesterday.

To contact the reporters on this story: Rebecca Keenan in Melbourne at rkeenan@bloomberg.net; Angus Whitley in Sydney at awhitley1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Hobbs at ahobbs4@bloomberg.net

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