BRISBANE, Australia, Jan 12, 2011 (AFP) - Australia's third-biggest city Brisbane was besieged Wednesday by once-in-a-century floods that could hit up to 20,000 homes, as fears grew up to 25 people were killed by raging torrents.
Thousands of people took refuge with friends and central districts were eerily quiet as the river city of two million prepared for its worst deluge since 1893, as floods spread across vast areas of Australia's northeast.
|Friends and family members transfer their belongings into a boat from their flooded home after rainwaters the day before inundated the city of Ipswich, some 40 kms southwest of Brisbane on January 12, 2011. AFP|
Brisbane Mayor Campbell Newman confirmed that the number of homes expected to be hit by waters breaching river systems around the city had risen from 6,500 to 19,700, as he opened more evacuation centres for victims.
"We are bracing for a one-in-a-hundred-year flood," said state premier Anna Bligh. "We are bracing for a massive amount of water coming into this river system and it will flood thousands of properties."
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the number of homes under threat was "mind-boggling", but urged people in the city, bisected by the winding Brisbane River, to help neighbours deal with what is shaping up as a major emergency.
"If there's someone in your street you're worried about, maybe an older Australian that you haven't seen for a while, maybe give them a knock on the door and make sure they're okay," she added.
Brisbane, the cosmopolitan state capital and economic hub, is the latest and biggest victim of a crisis caused by months of rains that have turned three-quarters of Queensland into a disaster zone twice the size of Texas.
Dozens of suburbs and roads are under water with the Brisbane River bursting its banks in some places and expected to swamp the city centre when it peaks on Thursday. Power will be cut to about 100,000 properties as a safety precaution.
Some 900 people spent the night in evacuation centres in nearby Ipswich, upstream of Brisbane, while two entire small towns were evacuated in the neighbouring state of New South Wales.
Some of the inundation is related to flash floods that smashed through towns high in the Great Dividing Range to the city's west on Monday, leaving at least 10 dead as rescuers search wrecked communities for more bodies.
State premier Bligh said the toll was expected to rise sharply, warning that the number of people missing had been upgraded to 90.
"Police are anticipating or have very, very grave fears for at least 15 more people," Bligh said. "This is a potentially gruesome day for our rescue workers and a heartbreaking day for families," she added.
Meanwhile Melbourne, about 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) from Brisbane in Australia's southeast, was on alert for flash-floods following incessant downpours also blamed on the disruptive La Nina weather system.