Brisbane Faces Worst Flood Since 1893 Amid Evacuation (Update2)
2011-01-11 10:17:49.603 GMT
(Updates death toll in second paragraph.)
By Angus Whitley and Jacob Greber
Jan. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Brisbane faces its worst floods
since 1893 as rivers swollen with heavy rain race toward
Australia's third-largest city.
Flash floods overnight left 10 dead and 79 missing in the
northeastern state of Queensland, the state's premier, Anna
Bligh, said today at a news conference. She said the death toll
may more than double and urged Brisbane residents to be prepared
for enormous disruptions.
Queensland has been lashed for more than two weeks as
downpours hammered the coal- and sugar-producing state.
Brisbane's airport today bustled with people fleeing the coastal
city, home to more than 1 million people. Some of those staying
to ride out the waters cleared store shelves to hoard food.
"We are facing one of our toughest tests," Bligh said.
"We are now in a very frightening experience. We continue to
hold very grave fears for the missing."
The Australian dollar fell to a three-week low against its
U.S. counterpart as concern mounted that economic growth will
slow. Australian thermal coal prices rose as the waters curbed
Floodwaters reaching Queensland's capital on Jan. 13 may
surpass the level of a deluge that inundated the city in 1974,
Brisbane's worst floods of the 20th century, Bligh said. About
9,000 properties will be inundated and some residents may be
forced to evacuate, she said.
Emerging from an operations room where she's bunkered down
with police and emergency-services officers, Bligh asked
residents to stay calm, close ranks and follow orders.
"We do need to brace ourselves for a significant death
toll," Bligh said. "If you're asked to leave your property,
don't make the job harder."
As floodwaters sweep east, an evacuation center has been
set up at the RNA Showgrounds at Bowen Hills in Brisbane,
Queensland police said. Main roads were clogged late today.
Close to the city center, shops and homeowners began surrounding
their properties with sandbags.
Bligh warned that shops and businesses are likely to be
closed in the next few days as waters rise. Motorists should
avoid driving wherever possible, she said.
Many shops in Brisbane are empty, said resident Steven
Pearce, a book seller.
"It's mayhem," he said by phone from a supermarket in the
south of the city. "On the shelves there is no bread, there is
no water, no fruit or vegetables."
The record 1893 floods dumped the gunship Paluma on the
Brisbane Botanical Gardens. The 1974 torrent, triggered by near-
record rainfall and a tropical cyclone, killed 16 people and
inundated a third of the city's metropolitan area, according to
the website of the Attorney General's department. Following that
deluge, the state built the Wivenhoe Dam to protect the capital.
That dam is close to capacity and some of its water must be
released, said Brisbane's Lord Mayor Campbell Newman.
"The big shock absorber that is that dam is now full," he
told reporters. "Every bit of rain that falls in the catchment
is going to come down into the city."
One positive development is that rain is expected to ease
overnight and tomorrow, which will help relief and rescue
efforts, Bligh said late today. The weather bureau expects light
showers for the rest of the week.
A further 30,000 properties in Brisbane will be partially
affected by the flood, Bligh said. Queensland's government today
declared three-quarters of the state a disaster zone.
"Thursday is going to be devastating for the residents and
businesses concerned," Newman said. "Those people should take
The latest floods first swept yesterday through Toowoomba,
home to 90,000 people about 127 kilometers (79 miles) west of
Brisbane. As a wall of brown water cascaded through the town
without warning, people were trapped in vehicles, while others
hung to lamp posts and trees.
The flash floods, described by police as an "inland
instant tsunami," were triggered after heavy rains fell on
already sodden ground. The downpour have hit the state's farming
and coal industries and may have affected as many as 200,000
people, authorities say.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard today offered defense force
resources to Premier Bligh for the rescue operation. The U.S.,
China, Japan, Singapore and New Zealand are among nations that
have offered help, she said.
Rescue efforts have been hampered as fog grounded
helicopters, leaving residents stranded on rooftops overnight.
West of Brisbane closer to yesterday's flash floods, about 300
people were airlifted to safety, police said.
The most recent floods have affected about 1 million square
kilometers, an area the size of France and Germany. Repairing
the damage may cost more than A$5 billion ($4.94 billion), the
state government has said.
In Sydney, shares of Suncorp Group Ltd. and Insurance
Australia Group Ltd. fell as investors bet floods in Brisbane
will trigger a spike in claims.
For Related News and Information:
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--With assistance from Rebecca Keenan and Ben Sharples in
Melbourne. Editors: Iain Wilson, Indranil Ghosh
To contact the reporters on this story:
Angus Whitley in Sydney at +61-2-9777-8643 or
Jacob Greber in Brisbane at +61-2-9777-8635 or
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Philip Lagerkranser at +852-2977-6626 or