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Australia flood woes worsen; Brisbane submerged

Last updated on: January 12, 2011 15:43 IST

Australia flood woes worsen; Brisbane submerged

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Floodwaters entered the low-lying areas of Australia's third-largest city today as the Brisbane river breached its banks, forcing thousands in the Queensland capital to flee their homes in the midst of frantic rescue efforts.

Up to 30 people are believed to have died in Queensland state since floods swept northeast of Australia. The waters reached the province's capital Brisbane and Mayor Campbell Newman warned that over 20,000 buildings are likely to go under water.
He said new flood modelling indicated that an estimated 19,700 residential properties and 3500 commercial premises were likely to be flooded in the city as the Brisbane River burst its banks and inundated suburbs, including Jindalee, Toowong and Yeronga.

As the country witnessed the worst flood crisis in a century, the number of missing people has been scaled down to 67 from 90 after many were found during frantic rescue efforts, state Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said. "I just want to stress that that number will move upwards and downwards over the coming days as police get reports and either confirm or otherwise the existence or whereabouts of individuals," Roberts said. "So we still do have grave concerns for a significant number of people and search and rescue operations will obviously be continuing in the Lockyer Valley area," he said.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Indian Students in Australia, a body representing Indian students, asked Indians across the country to rally support for the flood-hit people of Queensland, including thousands from the community. A large number of Indians are believed to have been affected by the Queensland flooding. It is believed that over 10,000 students are currently enrolled in Central Queensland University.

Image: Flood waters are seen in front of the Wheel of Brisbane ferris wheel
Photographs: Mick Tsikas/Reuters
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Brisbane braces for the high tide on Thursday

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FISA spokesperson Gautam Gupta expressed concern over the current flood crisis which he said was prompting many families in India to call and inquire about their loved ones studying in the state universities and other institutions. "We are concerned that amongst the thousands of victims of this tragedy, there are a number of Indian students. These students will be doing very tough and our hearts go out to them and their loved ones," he said.

Authorities were now planning for a Brisbane River peak not experienced since 1893 with a peak of 5.5 metres on the high tides on Thursday. Brisbane residents have been warned complete suburbs could go under, as floodwaters begin to inundate riverside homes.

Evacuations are underway in the inner-west Brisbane suburb of Graceville and people were wading away from their homes, pets and belongings in hand, in knee-deep waters while Premier Anna Bligh called for calm amid what she called a "frightening time".

Debris continues to flow down the murky brown river, including goods and large tree branches. The 6,500 homes on the first flood warning list, issued on Tuesday, are likely to be severely affected.

"For the low-lying areas, for the ones that were on the original list, those properties are going to go under to a significant extent," Newman said. Roberts said all Brisbane residents in areas identified as flood zones should immediately get out.

Meanwhile, prisoners were being used in emergency efforts. Fifteen low-risk prisoners from the Helena Jones Centre were being used to fill sandbags at the Zillmere Council depot, a Community Safety Department spokeswoman said. "... but if we are all calm, if we all stick together, if we all reach out to each other then I'm absolutely confident that - together with our emergency personnel and the army - we will prevail in this event," Bligh said.

Image: An aerial view of the rising Brisbane River
Photographs: Mick Tsikas/Reuters
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'Four thousand homes have been flooded'

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Bligh appealed to the people to leave their homes immediately if floodwaters entered their property and asked them to be ready to leave.

"Without any doubt, we need to put human life first," she said. The Port of Brisbane was shut down and was available only for emergency purposes. Besides, hundreds of roads have been cut around with bus services being scaled back.

In the city of Ipswich in the region, the Bremer River was expected to peak this afternoon at a level of 20.5m -- same as the 1974 flood level -- flooding about 4000 homes.

Fifteen hundred Ipswich residents have been moved into evacuation centres as the city prepares for its worst-ever flood. About 20,000 homes and businesses were without power in Ipswich, and about 50,000 places do not have power across the southeast region.

Separately, in the devastated Lockyer Valley, west of the city, rescue crews were entering the shattered towns of Grantham and Withcott in search of bodies and any people trapped after Monday's deadly flashfloods.

Bligh warned of the "gruesome" day ahead as more bodies are likely to be found in the affected areas. "... a potentially gruesome day for our emergency workers and a heart breaking day for families who are still holding out hope," Bligh said.

Image: A couple walks past a flooded apartment building in Brisbane
Photographs: Mick Tsikas/Reuters
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'The army has been called out in Queensland'

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She said there were "grave" fears for 15 people in addition to those already confirmed dead. "I expect them (rescue workers) to have one of their toughest days. I think we're all going to be shocked by what they find in these towns that were hit by that tsunami yesterday," Premier Bligh told Sky News.

The town of Lowood, east of Toowoomba, had experienced flooding overnight and left families stranded on rooftops.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard was qouted by TV channels as saying that seven additional helicopters would be made available to assist the search and rescue effort bringing to 15 the total number of helicopters in Queensland.

"We do have 700 defence personnel on a notice to move should that be necessary in order to assist the people of Queensland. So on the defence force side more is being done," she said. Gillard said the defence force effort would be increased as necessary as the crisis evolved.


Image: Shopkeepers salvage a coffee machine from their flooded shop in the Brisbane suburb of Milton
Photographs: Mick Tsikas/Reuters
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