Brisbane Floods Worsen as Queensland Death Toll Rises (Update1)
2011-01-12 05:53:40.43 GMT
(Updates death toll in first paragraph.)
By Jacob Greber and Rebecca Keenan
Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Floodwaters in Brisbane are rising
after the river that runs through the city burst its banks,
threatening 40,000 properties and worsening a six-week crisis
that's killed 23 people and left 67 missing in Queensland state.
The center of Australia's third-largest city is being
shuttered, with buses and trains halted, major roads blocked,
and workers making final efforts to sandbag office towers, some
of whose car parks are already inundated. The Brisbane River --a
torrent of brown water filled with shattered pontoons, trees and
boats broken from moorings -- is expected to peak tomorrow in
what may be the city's worst flood since 1893.
An area bigger than Texas and California making up more
than 75 percent of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone.
The death toll doubled Jan. 10 as a flash flood smashed through
Toowoomba, tearing away cars, roads, homes and people. Police
and volunteers today continued to rescue those stranded on roofs
and pockets of higher ground, and to search for bodies.
"The hardest times are still ahead of us," Queensland
Premier Anna Bligh said in a press conference today. "Our
emergency search and rescue teams today may face a very
difficult and emotional task as they search for and possibly
find bodies in some of those isolated areas."
The rain that closed coal mines, cut railways and forced
the Australian dollar down may cost the economy A$7 billion
($6.9 billion) Ausbil Dexia Ltd. estimated. The currency fell to
a one-month low on concern the floods will slow growth and deter
the central bank from raising interest rates.
Mining companies including Rio Tinto Group, BHP Billiton
Ltd. and Xstrata Plc have deferred deliveries of coal, driving
up the price for steelmaking and power coal. Thermal coal prices
have already risen to the highest since September 2008 as the
rain curbs output.
John Honan, chief economist at Ausbil Dexia in Sydney, cut
his forecast for Australia's first-quarter economic growth to
0.4 percent, from 0.9 percent before the floods, and doubled his
inflation forecast to 1.6 percent. The Reserve Bank of Australia
won't raise interest rates until the third quarter this year, he
said in an e-mail response to questions.
A La Nina weather event has brought record rainfall to the
coal- and sugar-producing state and is expected to last into
Australia's autumn, Bureau of Meteorology Head of Climate
Monitoring and Prediction David Jones said today by phone from
Melbourne. Rains were easing today, with the bureau forecasting
"a few showers" for Brisbane and a mostly fine weekend.
As residents of metropolitan Brisbane, home to 2 million
people, evacuate from lower-lying suburbs, workers continue to
place sandbags outside downtown businesses, where the basements
of many buildings are already filling with water. The Stamford
Plaza hotel, which overlooks the city's botanical gardens, has
closed as water laps at the ceiling of its underground car park.
As many as 40,000 properties in Brisbane may be affected by
tomorrow, including 19,700 homes, the city council said in a
media statement today. The city center and low-lying areas had
their power cut today, Queensland electricity supplier Energex
said on its website. There are 3,585 people in 57 evacuation
centers around the state.
The Brisbane River, which flows through the center of the
city, will surge to 4.5 meters (15 feet) at 3 p.m. local time,
from a current level of 3.75 meters. The river may tomorrow
exceed 5.45 meters, the height that devastated the city during
flooding in 1974, the Bureau of Meteorology said on its website.
On Eagle Street, a restaurant district in the city center
that overlooks the river, business owners cleared stock to
Rob Kelly, 39, who runs the Jude cafe in a complex of bars,
brasseries and nightclubs, said he opened four weeks ago after
spending A$400,000 on a fit out. Much of that may soon be
damaged, he said.
"They tried sandbagging the building, but water has filled
the basement car park already through drains," he said in an
interview outside his cafe.
Retailers, banks and insurers are already counting the
costs. The Reject Shop Ltd. placed its shares in a trading halt
as it assesses the impact on its discount stores. Caltex
Australia Ltd. shares fell 5.7 percent after the shutdown of a
refinery that supplies about a third of Queensland's fuel needs.
Port of Brisbane, Australia's third-busiest container
harbor, was shut to maritime traffic as debris littered the
waterway. Suncorp Group Ltd., the biggest Brisbane-based
insurer, may face net costs from claims stemming from the floods
of about A$555 million in the year ending June 2011, UBS AG said
in a report today.
The Jan. 10 flash-flood through Toowoomba, home to 90,000
people about 127 kilometers (79 miles) west of Brisbane, was
described by police as an "inland instant tsunami." Twelve
people have been confirmed dead from that deluge, with 67 still
missing, according to the state's emergency services department.
The deaths take the toll since the end of November to 23, the
The Lockyer river, which burst its banks to cause the
devastation in Toowoomba, feeds into the Brisbane River. Some
parts of Brisbane have had up to 461 millimeters of rain in the
past week, more than five times the city's average for January.
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.
The dam was at 190 percent capacity at 10 p.m. local time
last night and controlled releases were underway, according to
The floods are moving south, forcing the evacuation of as
many as 850 people in the New South Wales state towns of
Boggabilla and Toomelah.
La Ninas, characterized by a cooling of temperatures in the
central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, are associated with
above-normal winter, spring and summer rain in eastern and
northern Australia. The current La Nina is one of the strongest
in recorded history and is the biggest since 1917.
The event also raises the cyclone risk for northern
Australia from November to April, according to the bureau. A
cyclone off the north coast of Western Australia, where most of
the nation's oil and gas production is located, has formed and
may intensify this week, the weather bureau said.
Further south in Western Australia, a bushfire that
destroyed nine homes is under control in the Lake Clifton area.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday offered defense
force resources to Queensland for the rescue operation. The
U.S., China, Japan, Singapore and New Zealand are among nations
that have offered help, she said.
For Related News and Information:
Top Stories: TOP <GO>
Top commodity stories: CTOP <GO>
Most read Australian news: MNI AUD <GO>
Most-read natural disaster stories: TNI MOSTREAD NAT <GO>
--With assistance by Angus Whitley in Canberra, Wendy Pugh and
Ben Sharples in Melbourne, and Dan Petrie in Sydney. Editors:
Malcolm Scott, Iain Wilson
To contact the reporters on this story:
Jacob Greber in Sydney at +61-2-9777-8635 or
Rebecca Keenan in Melbourne at +61-3-9228-8721 or
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Andrew Hobbs at 02 9777 8642 or firstname.lastname@example.org;
Philip Lagerkranser at +852-2977-6626 or