Floods pour into Brisbane; 20,000 homes in danger

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Energex, the city’s main power company, said it would switch off electricity to some parts of the city starting Wednesday as a precaution against electrocution. Almost 70,000 homes were without power across Queensland by Wednesday afternoon, Ms. Bligh said.

“I know that this is going to be very difficult for people,” Ms. Bligh said. “Can I just stress: Electricity and water do not mix. We would have catastrophic situations if we didn’t shut down power.”

Darren Marchant spent all day moving furniture and other household goods to the top floor of his home, near the river in the low-lying Brisbane suburb of Yeronga, which is expected to be inundated. He and two neighbors watched in awe as dozens of expensive boats and pontoons drifted past.

“We were watching all kinds of debris floating down the river — one of the [neighbor’s] pontoons just floated off,” he said Wednesday. “It was amazing.”

For weeks, the flooding had been a slow-motion disaster, devastating wide swaths of farmland and small towns. On Monday, the crisis took a sudden, violent turn, with a cloudburst sending a raging torrent down the Lockyer Valley west of Brisbane. Houses were washed from their foundations and cars tossed about like bath toys in what Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson described as “an inland instant tsunami.”

Hundreds had to be rescued by helicopter Tuesday and emergency vehicles were moving into the worst-hit parts of the valley on Wednesday. Ms. Bligh warned that the death toll would likely rise as rescue officials gained access to the devastated areas.

In the Lockyer Valley town of Grantham, entire houses that had been swept off their foundations sat in sodden heaps of jumbled debris. Waters that had submerged a railway bridge receded, exposing an avalanche of twisted wreckage caught in its foundation: furniture, a “for sale” sign, a child’s swing set, even a dead cow.

The city of Ipswich, home to about 15,000 people, was swamped Wednesday by the water heading Brisbane’s way. By the afternoon, 3,000 properties had been inundated, and 1,100 people had fled to evacuation centers, Mayor Paul Pisasale said. Video from the scene showed horses swimming through the brown waters, pausing to rest their heads on the roof of a house — the only dry spot they could reach.

Steph Stewardson, a graphic designer, said there was an exodus from Brisbane’s downtown around lunchtime Tuesday with people streaming out of skyscrapers as the river broke its banks. Ms. Stewardson, 40, hopped in her car and crossed the swollen river to collect her dog, Boo, from daycare while waters started covering the boardwalk stretching along its banks.

Ms. Stewardson took shelter in her house and plans to stay there — for now.

“I’m about 800 meters (half a mile) from the river on a hill, so I think it’s going to be OK,” she told the Associated Press.

Gelineau reported from Sydney.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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