Australia floods: Brisbane peak lower than feared

Brisbane residents have taken to their flooded streets in canoes.

The Australian city of Brisbane has experienced widespread flooding, although the peak level is a metre lower than feared, officials say.

The Brisbane River peaked at 4.46m (14.6ft) just before 0530 (1930GMT Wednesday), compared with 5.4m (17.7ft) in the 1974 floods.

However, dozens of suburbs and thousands of properties are inundated.

The death toll in Queensland's flooding went up to 15, with dozens more reported missing.

The Brisbane Courier-Mail reported that the city had suffered its first flood fatality, when a 24-year-old man was killed overnight after being sucked into a storm water drain as he tried to check his father's property.

At the scene

Things are still very bad here - there is widespread devastation. Some 25,000 homes are either partially or totally flooded, but the key thing is the river levels didn't peak at the high point feared.

The big commercial area will win a reprieve but more than 30 suburbs have been hit and people will be under water for days to come. There will have to be a huge recovery operation throughout the state, so this crisis is far from over.

The floods have devastated much of the agriculture sector and the mining sector. I was speaking to the state treasurer on Wednesday and he said the cost would have a 'b' after it - for billions - rather than an 'm'.

Although the flood level in Brisbane was lower than feared, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said: "We've seen scenes of unbelievable devastation and destruction: entire suburbs where only rooftops can be glimpsed, whole big workplaces... are completely under water."

She added that industrial parks and railway stations were under water, and bridges and roads closed. "What I'm seeing looks more like a war zone in some places," she told a news conference.

Choking back tears, Ms Bligh said of her fellow Queenslanders: "We're the ones that they knock down and we get up again. I said earlier this week that this weather may break our hearts... but it will not break our will."

'Sense of horror'

The water levels remain high but did not exceed 4.6m and are now slowly beginning to fall.

One reason for a reduced peak was that the Wivenhoe and Somerset dams had reduced the amount of water they were being forced to release to ease pressure.

Brisbane airport survived the swell and remains open, with almost all flights unaffected. However, passengers are advised to check before travel. Public transport to the airport is severely limited.

Brisbane's Gateway Bridges were closed and reopened twice overnight amid fears that floating debris could cause damage.

Map

One huge concern was a 300m-long chunk of a concrete river walkway that sheared loose and sped down the Brisbane river.

One resident, Suzy Wilson, told the BBC: "It's just an enormous structure, it's very long, it was broken up in a couple of places, it's simply extraordinary to see it come past."

Water police managed to escort it away from damaging any bridges.

Wednesday had seen boats and pontoons floating down the river, along with massive amounts of other debris.

A boat swept down the swollen Brisbane river sinks after hitting a bridge

Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman said he had "a sense of horror and awe about the power of the river".

"At the moment we are seeing pontoons and people's boats... sadly in the coming hours we might be seeing bits of people's houses... and that breaks my heart.''

The city's West End, Taringa and Indooropilly districts have been badly hit.

USEFUL FLOOD INFORMATION

Many supermarkets in the city have been stripped of supplies, while a number of rubbish collections and bus services have halted.

More than 100,000 properties had their power cut as a precaution against flooding of electricity substations.

West of Brisbane in the city of Ipswich, the Bremer river peaked at 19.4m on Wednesday, the Bureau of Meteorology reported.

About 1,000 homes were inundated and 7,500 more affected, the Queensland Times reported.

More than 1,000 people are in evacuation centres there.

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