Australia's Brisbane avoids worst flood fears

Updated: 2011-01-13 09:47


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BRISBANE – Flood water in Australia's third-biggest city peaked below feared catastrophic levels on Thursday but Brisbane and other devastated regions faced years of rebuilding and even the threat of fresh floods in the weeks ahead.

The capital of Queensland state resembled a muddy lake, with an entire waterfront cafe among the debris washed down the Brisbane River, a torrent that has flooded 12,000 homes and left more than 100,000 homes and businesses without power.

Australia's Brisbane avoids worst flood fears
Cranes are submerged by flood waters in an industrial area of Brisbane January 13, 2011.[Photo/Agencies]

"This morning as I look across not only the capital city, but three-quarters of my state, we are facing a reconstruction effort of post-war proportions," Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said from the city of two million people.

"This is going to be a long recovery," she told a radio station.

Insurers face a huge bill, with some economists expecting A$6 billion ($5.9 billion) in damage from the floods that began last month in Queensland, a mining state, crippling the coking coal industry and destroying roads, railways and bridges as they flowed south.

The floods have killed at least 17 people and 70 are missing, according to revised figures.

But the water peaked at almost a meter below the level of deadly 1974 floods in Brisbane.

Despite that, many of the city's factories and homes had only rooflines visible as residents, many evacuated to safety, woke to bright sunshine. Hundreds of onlookers gathered above the river to see the devastation at first light.

The swollen Brisbane River was choked with debris after bursting its banks and engulfing large districts of the city the previous day. Power has been cut to areas in and around the city because of worry the waters could cause electrocutions.

Boats and river pontoons torn adrift by the deluge lay piled on river banks as the roiling brown water raced past.

South of Brisbane, neighboring New South Wales state has also been hard hit by flooding, causing widespread evacuations in many small communities, while southeast Victoria state had also been hit by drenching rain, flash flooding and landslides.

One central bank economist has warned the floods could cut the gross domestic product (GDP) measure of national income by as much as 1 percent, a blow that would wipe A$13 billion from the economy and place at risk the government's promise of a return to surplus in 2012-13.


"The complete rebuild is going to take years, there is no doubt about it. But Australia has the ability to rebuild Queensland," said Major-General Mick Slater, appointed by the government to head of Queensland's flood recovery taskforce.

Australia's Brisbane avoids worst flood fears
People in a small boat travel through a flooded suburb west of Brisbane January 13, 2011.[Photo/Agencies]

Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman said while many areas of the financial district were still inundated, the lower than expected peak would save about 8,000 properties from damage.

"We all now have to rally together to help these people clean up, the ones that have suffered impacts," Newman told Australian television.

The revised flood figure, he said, indicated 11,900 properties would be fully flooded and another 14,700 partially affected. These included 2,500 businesses that would be completely inundated.

He also warned there was a real risk of a repeat in the weeks ahead, with the wet season far from over and dams built to protect the city and surrounding regions at bursting point.

"The sky is blue, but the wet season goes until March. If there is more rain in two or three weeks time, I need to sound a cautionary note this morning, there could be another flood," Newman said.

Power companies said they were planning to bring in large generators to restore power in Brisbane's financial heart as soon as the water cleared.

"In the CBD (central business district), we've got about 10 blocks without power. That will be probably about another 3-4 days," said Mike Swanston of power provider Energex.

Related readings:

Australia's Brisbane avoids worst flood fears 3,500 Australians flee Queensland to escape flood
Australia's Brisbane avoids worst flood fears1,700 trapped in Australia's New South Wales flood 
Australia's Brisbane avoids worst flood fears Threatened Australian town gets flood reprieve

But devastated areas further west, hit by flash flooding on Monday described as an "inland tsunami," could be without power for weeks, Swanston added.

There were signs of more normal life returning in the city center. Some bridges opened across the river, while some buses returned to the streets and shops reopened.

Authorities were also struggling to secure or break up three large objects or vessels on the Brisbane River.

A rescue helicopter was due to fly in a 1.5 metric ton anchor to secure a ferry that had broken adrift and was seen as a potential hazard.

TV footage also showed a tug boat trying to secure a huge concrete walkway that was ripped from the banks of the river.




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