Brisbane will flood for the second time in three years, with Premier Campbell Newman revealing last night that nothing can stop the city’s river breaking its banks and inundating thousands of properties as a powerful storm continues to batter the east coast.
More than 3600 houses and residential unit lots would be affected, though not all would have water through the premises.
A further 1250 business properties would be affected over the coming days, although the Premier insisted the flood would be smaller than the 2011 disaster that inundated 20,000 properties.
Mr Newman made the announcement as Brisbane was being lashed by a cyclone-strength storm that had carved a path of destruction through Queensland coastal communities, killing up to four people, flooding hundreds of homes and leaving tens of thousands without power in a disaster set to rival the state’s flood crisis two years ago.
The storm – a tropical low that was initially rated as category-one Cyclone Oswald when it formed in the Gulf of Carpentaria last week – has lashed parts of Queensland with winds of more than 100km/h, mini-tornadoes and more than 300mm of rainfall in 24 hours.
The flood and storm emergency covered more than 1000km of coastline, from the industrial city of Gladstone, 550km north of Brisbane, where 40 homes were flooded, to Maryborough, 300km southeast, where homes were under threat.
The storm will continue to move south through NSW today, with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting downpours of more than 200mm around Coffs Harbour and Grafton, as much as 150mm in Sydney and heavy rain to the Victorian border.
The storm took its first life yesterday, with confirmation that an 81-year-old man had drowned off Burrum Heads, near Bundaberg, while trying to secure his yacht.
Mr Newman said grave fears were held for a woman who drove into floodwaters at Pacific Haven, near Maryborough.
A motorcyclist has been swept off a bridge into a flooded creek at Greenbank about 11pm yesterday. Members of the public tried to get a rope to the man, but this was unsuccessful and he was washed down stream. A search will resume this morning.
A man, 27, disappeared in raging Widgee Creek west of Gympie after his car, with two others inside, was washed off a crossing. His companions were saved by swiftwater rescuers who lost their own boat during the drama.
And fears were mounting for a fisherman who has been missing off Rockhampton since Thursday, after radioing that his boat was taking on water.
As flood emergencies gripped the towns of Bundaberg, Maryborough and communities across the Sunshine Coast last night, Julia Gillard and her deputy, Wayne Swan, said the thoughts of the nation were with Queensland as it again battled natural disaster.
Tony Abbott said the emergency services were doing all they could to keep people safe.
The Treasurer said the Commonwealth Disaster Plan had been activated to provide military support, and soldiers were ready to be deployed along with the Townsville-based Black Hawk helicopters sent to Bundaberg last night, where emergency evacuations were under way as the swollen Burnett River threatened more than 400 homes and business properties. “The full assets of the defence forces are on stand-by if required,” Mr Swan said.
Andrew Coones and his wife, Michelle, were devastated yesterday to see their modest home at Bargara, east of Bundaberg, destroyed by the tornado that battered their town.
Mr Coones had taken his son for a drive before the worst and returned to find the room in which his son lived with his girlfriend wrecked with debris and glass from a broken window strewn across the bed. “I was so lucky I did take them for a drive,” Mr Coones told the Ten Network.
The town of Grantham, epicentre of the deadly “inland tsunami” two years ago in the Lockyer Valley that killed 12 of its residents, also flooded, with 1m of water reported to be churning through its main street. An evacuation centre was activated at nearby Laidley. “After 2011, everyone is very emotional in the valley, particularly in Grantham,” Lockyer Mayor Steve Jones said.
Another emergency was in progress inland of the Great Dividing Range at Dalby, 215km northwest of Brisbane, where police were doorknocking homes urging people to evacuate.
The Insurance Council of Australia declared a state of catastrophe.
As conditions deteriorated in Brisbane, with rain falling at the rate of 50mm an hour and more than 58,000 homes blacked out across the region, Mr Newman said: “‘We are right in the middle of this now.”
The Bremer River in Ipswich was forecast to peak at 14.45m at midnight tonight, half a metre less than the mark two years ago, while the river would rise to 2.66m in Brisbane CBD at midday tomorrow, well short of the flood’s 4.46m height two years ago.
Secondary flood peaks are predicted to strike a day later, but would be no higher.
Properties “from a whole range of suburbs” would be affected, Mr Newman warned.
“They cannot be controlled – we have to take the water as the elements deal it up to us,” he said.
“Unfortunately, there will be flooding, but the flooding will be much, much lower that what we saw in 2011.”
Despite the threat to the population centres of Brisbane and the Gold Coast, the focus was on Bundaberg as emergency crews raced the rising Burnett River to clear people from the danger zone in the town’s north and east before the Burnett peaked at 9.4m, surpassing the level that caused devastating flooding in 2010.
A state government emergency declaration was in force last night to empower police and SES personnel to order people out of their homes if they refused to leave.
Floodwater invaded the main street of the Sunshine Coast centre of Nambour, and 23,000 homes were without power. Beaches were pounded by massive waves. Brisbane’s Kedron Brook was in full flood and threatening homes.
There were reports a tornado had touched down near Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast, revisiting Saturday’s chaos in which a string of twisters generated by the cyclonic low pressure system slammed into Burnett Heads, Bargara beach, coastal Coonarr and Bungadoo near Bundaberg.
Mr Newman said state agency SEQWater was continuing to release water from Wivenhoe Dam at the rate of about 1000cu m/second, in accordance with “its legal responsibilities” to manage the flood risk to Brisbane.Source: The Australian “Military responds to storm crisis”
- Australia: Heavy rain and destructive winds for Brisbane until Monday (craighill.net)
- Brisbane expected to flood (radionz.co.nz)
- ‘Time to act’: major flood crisis unfolds (theage.com.au)