Brisbane and nearby Ipswich are bracing for unprecedented flooding as the death toll from southern Queensland’s flash flooding reaches 10, with 90 people still missing.
Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes at Ipswich, west of the capital, last night, with about one-third of the city expected to go under water today as the Bremer River reaches 22 metres.
Brisbane is also bracing for major flood levels of around 4.5 metres about 2:30pm (AEST), with tomorrow’s peak predicted to be above historic 1974 levels.
About 30,000 people will be affected in the capital and 9,000 homes are expected to sustain flood damage.
Parts of the CBD will be inundated today and as a precaution Energex is turning off power to the inner-city at 7:00am to protect the electricity grid.
Other large parts of the city will follow suit around 8:30am, a move that will affect tens of thousands of customers.
Large parts of Brisbane are already affected by flooding. A number of shops in the CBD have been evacuated and the State Library has closed.
Evacuation centres have been established, with one at the showgrounds being able to handle 3,000 people.
More suburbs are flooding including Oxley, Milton, New Farm, Teneriffe and Bellbowrie, where ABC talk-back caller Kathryn says it is being swamped.
“We woke up this morning at about three o’clock with alarms going off… just a siren that just keeps on going,” she said.
“Bellbowrie shops… it is pretty much going under water.”
Apart from inner-city residents, there are few people in the centre of Brisbane and it is uncharacteristically empty and silent.
Supermarkets were open last night but shelves that stock fruit, vegetables, bread and milk were largely empty.
Premier Anna Bligh says the flooding will last for several days.
“It is likely to stay at or around that peak until Saturday, so we could see the river up at that level for a two to three-day period.”
A steady stream of debris is floating down the swollen Brisbane River, including boats ripped from their moorings by the force of the current and an entire ferry pontoon.
Ms Bligh says the scale of the looming disaster is constantly being reassessed.
“If we see these sorts of levels in the Brisbane River we would expect to see somewhere above 9,000 properties affected significantly and more than 30,000 other properties having some impact,” she said.
Ms Bligh has urged people not to panic.
“We are facing one of our toughest ever tests, we will only pass this test if we are calm,” she said
“Now is not a time for panic, it is a time for us to stick together.”
As panicked residents strip supermarket shelves bare , Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson echoed Ms Bligh’s call for calm.
“Stay calm but act wisely and if you’re in doubt, evacuate to friends or evacuate, don’t take any unnecessary risks,” he said.
The latest victim of the floods was a four-year-old boy who drowned while being moved to safety at Marburg, near Ipswich.
Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale said the boy, who was wearing a flotation jacket, fell out of a rescue boat and was swept away in floodwaters.
Mr Pisasale says Ipswich is preparing as best it can.
“If you think I’m panicking, yeah I am, but I want everyone to stay calm because we’re going to resolve this together,” he said.
Preparations are being made for flood-affected residents at the main Brisbane evacuation centre at the RNA Showgrounds.
Pallavi Datar and her husband arrived around 5:00pm (AEST) yesterday.
Ms Datar says they are grateful for the speedy response by authorities.
“When we left the home we didn’t know where to go, but we were hoping that there would be some arrangement made by the city council,” she said.
“We are really appreciating the situation that the city council was so prompt in setting up an evacuation centre for people like us, because otherwise there would have been really nowhere to go.”
About 800 Ipswich residents have sought shelter at evacuation centres in the city.
Greg Goebel, the executive director of the Australian Red Cross, says the Ipswich residents are distressed but coping well.
“There’s been no panic but there’s obviously been an influx of people as the day and night has gone on, but people are generally well behaved,” he said.
“They realise the gravity of the situation and they also realise that they need to take action now to move to safety.”
Several major highways are cut as well as countless suburban roads.
Residents in flood-affected south-east Queensland are being urged to conserve their drinking water over the next 48 hours.
Barry Dennien from SEQ Water says some of the organisation’s treatment equipment has been damaged by the floods.
He says it is important the treated supply is preserved for the next couple of days.
“We’d like people to just be a touch conservative with the water they are using. It’s safe to drink. It’s perfectly OK,” he said.
“But if they could just be a touch conservative. That way we can maintain them full and get them through the next coming days which is critical.”
Call for donations
Prime Minister Julia Gillard says it will take many months for communities to recover from the devastating floods.
Ms Gillard, who will arrive in Brisbane today, says the Federal Government is doing all it can to help people affected by the flooding.
“We’ve already processed more than 10,000 claims and paid more than $13 million and this is just the start – there will be more payments and support for people in recovery and then all of the rebuilding to do.”
Lifeline is appealing for donations to help its crisis hotline field calls from those affected by floods.
The organisation is dealing with large phone bills as they provide counselling from call centres across the country.
Lifeline’s Chris Wagner says they are providing support around the clock for people looking for someone to talk to about the disaster.
“Nationally our centres are all heavily manning the 131114 24-hour crisis telephone service,” he said.
“That service is already receiving calls from a number of people who either are affected by the flood crisis or who are being affected by watching the flood crisis as the coverage unfolds.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Police Commissioner Ian Stewart says police are daunted by the scale of the disaster in the Lockyer Valley.
A raging torrent of water swept through Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley on Monday, and heavy rain yesterday again pushed creeks to major flood levels.
“Certainly Grantham is one of the focus, but the other one is the Murphy’s Creek and Withcott area,” he said.
“That’s the other area we’re having difficulty getting into, and it’s going to take us a long time today to get to every one of those areas.
“I mean, the sheer scale of this operation is quite daunting when you look at the number of places and creeks that have been affected.”
Many towns were either badly damaged or wiped out by the flash flooding. Homes were knocked from their footings and cars were washed away.
Where the water has dropped slightly, there have been tonnes of mud and debris left behind.
A telephone hotline – 1300 993 191 – has been set up for people seeking information on friends and relatives caught up in the flooding disaster.