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Brisbane Residents Despair as Flood Leaves ‘War Zone’

People walk past residential homes on a flooded street in Brisbane. Photographer: Eric Taylor/Bloomberg
People walk past residential homes on a flooded street in Brisbane. Photographer: Eric Taylor/Bloomberg

Jan. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Nick Turnbull’s two-story Brisbane home sits three-quarters submerged in floodwaters swamping riverside suburbs across Australia’s third-biggest city.

“Stuff’s everywhere -- kids’ toys floating on brown, dirty brackish water,” the 38-year-old police detective said from the suburb of Graceville, one of more than 60 Brisbane neighborhoods inundated by the worst floods since 1974. “It’s a real dengue-fever breeding ground for mosquitoes. A good place to avoid.”

Turnbull’s family joins thousands preparing to clean up after what Queensland state Premier Anna Bligh describes as a disaster of “post-war proportions.” About 30,000 homes and businesses may need to be demolished or repaired after a surge of water this week burst the banks of the Brisbane River, the waterway slicing through the heart of the city.

At least 27 people are dead and 53 missing after six weeks of floods left the coal- and sugar-producing state of Queensland in the nation’s northeast corner with a disaster area bigger than Texas and California combined. About 70 towns and cities have been affected, disrupting almost every state resident, Bligh said.

Bridges and arterial roads are cut off, more than 65,000 homes and businesses were without power, and public transport remains hamstrung as the waters linger. The cost to the nation may total as much as A$13 billion ($12.9 billion), or 1 percent of gross domestic product, Stephen Walters, chief economist for Australia at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Sydney, says.

Emergency Housing

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the defense force would contribute about 1,200 personnel to support the clean-up and restoration phase of the flood crisis in Queensland. This is the biggest deployment of troops for a natural disaster since Cyclone Tracy, the government said in an e-mailed statement.

Essam Al-Quraishi, 36, who moved his wife and seven-year-old son from Baghdad four months ago, fled his ground-floor apartment in the suburb of St Lucia two days ago. They’ve lost all their possessions, he said from an evacuation center at the Brisbane show grounds.

“My son came from the political chaos in Iraq,” he said. “He thought ‘my misery will end’ and now he is in shock.”

More than 4,000 people are being housed in emergency centers around Queensland. Many may need temporary accommodation for months because houses and apartments that survived the inundation may need to be demolished, authorities said.

Gary Hutton, 37, was caught in the floods after bringing his wife from their rural home in northern New South Wales to a Brisbane hospital where she gave birth to twins on Monday as the flooding intensified.

Survival Stories

“They told us to get out of the hostel we were staying in,” he said as two of his children, ages 4 and 6, played nearby. “We had no time to take anything.”

Higher-lying areas of the city of 2 million people were unaffected by the flooding, enjoying the second sunny day of the year yesterday while riverside areas including parts of the central business district lay submerged.

Stories of survival and tragedy emerged as the water receded from towns battered to the west of Brisbane.

A 13-year-old boy trapped in a car with his family when the water struck died with his mother after insisting his younger brother be rescued first, the Brisbane Times reported. News channels showed images of a family of three sitting on a car roof drifting in a sea of brown water west of Brisbane; only the mother and the child were rescued, Bligh told reporters.

Assessing Damage

A 24-year-old man died yesterday while checking his father’s inundated property in a Brisbane suburb when he was sucked down a storm drain.

Residents used canoes, tin boats and other craft to paddle around submerged houses, barely fitting under power lines. Others began clearing away rubbish, muddy sludge and sodden belongings from backyards, living rooms and store fronts.

Elsewhere, Australian humor showed as someone placed water wings and a snorkeling mask on a bronze statue of Queensland rugby league hero Wally Lewis, which stands in front of waterlogged Suncorp Stadium football ground.

At 4 a.m. yesterday, the Brisbane City gauge peaked at 4.46 meters, the Bureau of Meteorology said on its website. That was below the 1974 high of 5.45 meters and about a meter lower than authorities had warned earlier this week.

Flood Peak

In the floods of 36 years ago, 14 people drowned as some were trapped in offices by rising waters. In the wake of that deluge, much of Australia was sodden with vast inland areas submerged for weeks and even months, destroying crops and sparking disease outbreaks such as Murray Valley Encephalitis, according to the weather bureau.

After weeks of heavy rain, flooding has begun to extend to neighboring states in Australia’s east. The New South Wales towns of Toomelah and Boggabilla, which border Queensland, were evacuated ahead of a deluge expected this afternoon, Phil Campbell, a spokesman for the state’s emergency services, said today by telephone.

Flooding of the MacIntyre River was expected to hit the towns, with a combined population of 850 people, around noon local time, Campbell said. The river was expected to peak at 12.6 meters (41 feet) in Boggabilla and most residents have left, he said.

Back in Graceville, Turnbull, who works in the Brisbane police drug squad, was yesterday praising his fiancee, Kate Johnson. A month ago, Johnson persuaded him to buy flood insurance.

“Nature really has its own way of rearranging things,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacob Greber in Brisbane at jgreber@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Philip Lagerkranser at lagerkranser@bloomberg.net

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