Cars and pedestrians were swept away on Monday night when a “super rainstorm” sent water raging through the streets of Toowoomba, west of Brisbane. Police said more than 40 people had been pulled from rooftops by helicopters, but by mid-afternoon 59 were still missing.
The worst flooding in Queensland state in 50 years has killed 13 people in the past two weeks, but police warn the death toll could rise significantly.
Traffic jams formed in central Brisbane as people headed out by car amid heavy rains and initial flooding, residents stocked up on food supplies and families started filling evacuation centres in the city and the neighbouring town of Ipswich.
Brisbane Mayor Campbell Newman said some 6,500 homes, businesses and properties would be flooded by Thursday.
“The situation has obviously demonstrably deteriorated, Newman told a news conference. “Today is very significant, tomorrow is bad, and Thursday is going to be devastating for the residents and businesses affected.”
The floods have at times covered an area bigger than France and Germany combined and caused an estimated $6 billion (3 billion pounds) in damage. Floodwaters have brought the state’s $25 billion coking coal export industry to a virtual standstill, hit tourism and devastated agriculture.
The flood crisis will also hit economic growth this year, heighten inflation as food prices rise, dampen retail spending and is forecast to prompt Australia’s central bank to delay an expected interest rate rise from February to May.
The worst flooding in the coal-exporting state of Queensland in half a century has at times covered an area the size of France and Germany combined and has killed at least 13 people.
The Australian dollar sank to a three-week low on Tuesday on concerns that Queensland’s flooded coal mines may take months to return to normal production and economic analysts said the floods would hit Australia’s economic growth.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the flooding would not derail an expected budget surplus in 2012-13.
The Queensland deluge has been blamed on a La Nina weather pattern in the Pacific, with Australia recording its third-wettest year on record in 2010, with two wet-season months to go. Weather officials are also forecasting an above average cyclone season.
“The Queensland floods are caused by what is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, La Nina events since our records began in the late 19th century,” said Professor Neville Nicholls, an environmental science expert at Monash University.
RESIDENTS SANDBAG HOMES, TIE UP CROCODILES
Television footage showed brown floodwater gushing through the centre of Toowoomba on Monday laden with debris, as people clung to telephone poles and rooftops to survive.
Panicked motorists climbed onto cars to escape the deluge, which destroyed homes and bridges, and hurled cars into trees and buildings like corks.
“Early reports would indicate that what hit Toowoomba could best be described as an inland, instant tsunami, with a massive wall of water that’s gone down through the Lockyer Valley,” Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said. Reuters